Barbed

The images from Barbed are part of a continuing series exploring the disconnect I feel from my  environment since moving to Dorset nearly 19 years ago.

I used to live on the outskirts of London in a place called Northwood; I suppose the name suggests what the environment was like! I had access to various woods, fields and parks where I lived. There was always a green space to go to, and I would walk my dog in the woods most days.

Now, living in Dorset, despite being surrounded by countryside I often feel it is all barred to me in some way. I am trying to represent that in this series of images, one of which is presented here.

When I look at this image, it describes perfectly how I feel about Dorset.

As well as the idea that there is a barrier between me and the countryside, there is a wider feeling that there is a ‘good life’ that I can see, just on the other side of the fence with beautiful blue skies and green fields – the epitome of happiness,  but for some reason it remains out of reach.

I present more of this work on my site,  sarahcassinscott.com

SarahScott516860_march_ride_2019 (5 of 37)
Image edited in Instagram

Simple Lumen Prints

How to Create a Lumen Print

For this you will need:

  • Darkroom black and white photographic paper; I’m using Ilford multigrade resin coated*
  • Photographic fixer; I’m using Ilford Rapid Fixer
  • Sunshine or UV light
  • Running water to rinse
  • Glass and board to put it all on, or a contact frame
  • Plant material or something to block light that you want a photogram image of. I’ve used a fern. You could also try a contact print using a negative the same size as the image you want to produce. You can make these yourself, see the bottom of this post for tips on producing a negative at home.

The process here is very simple. Take your paper, put the plant material or negative onto it and add glass on top to stop it all moving about. Take it outside on a sunny day and leave it from 30 minutes to 24 hours. Rinse in water and then put in fixer for 30 seconds to a minute to make the image permanent. Rinse with water again.

That is it. Simplicity. The most difficult bit is mixing up the fixer and that’s easy and can be made easier if you buy a pre-mixed pouch. Of course, like cyanotypes you can take this process further. But in essence that is all there is to it.

*Open your paper in a darkened room to avoid exposing it to light. If you want to use the paper for darkroom printing too, then always open under darkroom conditions.

image adjusted

Cyanotype: Taking it Further

My guide to creating a cyanotype.

I decided to try a few experiments to work out how various additions to a wet cyanotype can effect the outcome, and then to tone these experiments.

If you’re particularly interested in this I’d recommend you follow the blog as I intend to do a lot more of these as I found it a useful exercise. I’ve also now got a UV light specifically made for photography. I’ve not used it in this instance, but I hope it will give more accurate results in the long term.

Creating the Wet Cyanotype

I coated my paper with two coats of cyanotype emulsion and let it dry assuming I would begin work the next day. Thanks to the weather that didn’t happen, and it sat in it’s light-tight envelope for about four days until I used it.

My paper was a Windsor and Newton 100% cotton watercolour paper, slightly larger than A4, and I used ivy as my material to create a photogram. Ivy isn’t great because it’s quite thick and doesn’t lay flat, but I knew I’d be leaving this out for a few hours and I wanted to use something that would definitely block the light. So I used a foam board under my paper to allow a bit of room for the ivy to squish down properly under the glass.

I divided the paper up into three parts. The right here is is brushed with a 50% white vinegar 50% water solution using a foam brush. The middle has a paste made from turmeric and water brushed across it, and the left side has bubbles from a tray of washing up liquid added to it. So the paper was wet – when this is the case it’s a good idea to expose the cyanotype for longer than usual. A minimum of about 4 hours, but you can also try overnight. I added the ivy, put it all under glass and left it outside for 5 hours. The UV was medium to high, and it went out at 12pm and came back in at 5pm.

Above is the dried image scanned the next day. You can clearly see all of the materials I added to this. You can see bubbles, the turmeric is clear and the vinegar solution has clearly increased the contrast of the image on the right.

Toning Trials

I then cut this cyanotype into four so I’d have a piece for each of the three toning treatments I wanted to experiment with that would have the wet cyanotype trials on each piece, and one reference piece to compare the toned papers to the untoned.


Bleach

I placed one trial paper in a dilution of standard thin household bleach; this was 100ml of bleach and about 700ml of water, and it was left to soak for about 20 minutes.

You can see that green has been produced here. I didn’t keep an eye on it as it changed and I should have done because other colours might have appeared. With this type of process you do have to use your judgement, and it’s best to keep an eye on it. I find things dry a bit darker than I expect so if you’re bleaching in order to tone later on then you might want to let it go a bit paler than you think. Something to keep in mind. You can clearly see the effect of the vinegar has persisted on the right hand side of the image leaving the blue intact. The colour of the turmeric has disappeared.


Citric Acid

This piece has been placed in some anhydrous citric acid but you could try lemon juice. I initially used 250ml of water to 25g citric acid. I had no idea what dilution to use so that seemed like a good starting point. I left it for half an hour, and the yellow of the turmeric looked almost gold. I wasn’t sure if that was the result of the acid or the result of just putting it back into water, so I upped the concentration to 100g citric acid to 600ml warm water to see if the paper would get lighter. That made no difference at all, so I rinsed and dried. Again, the result of the vinegar solution is clear to see.


Tannin

The next trial was tannin. I’ve used tea bags to tone a cyanotype before, but this is tannin powder used for wine making. I used 8g tannin to 700ml water. I left this for about 10 minutes. This is easily my favourite result. The bubbles are clearly visible, the turmeric is just beautiful, and the vinegar is still clearly increasing the contrast. So tannin is something I will certainly return to for toning, while keeping in mind the results from the other chemicals in order to adjust my results.


Comparison

Here you can see the original cyanotype put back together and scanned. So this is the top image of this post turned 90 degrees counter-clockwise. This comparison shows the results most clearly. Next on my list to try is borax, soda crystals, and maybe some bicarb or baking powder. I also want to add more bubbles because I didn’t get enough onto the paper during this trial so I can’t see what effect the bleach or citric acid have had on those patterns. I also want to try to create some prints on coloured paper.

Epic Top 10 Free Image Sites

My list includes sites that specialise in photography, as well as some more unusual image resources for something a bit different. It’s not in order of preference as these are all great sites.

1 Unsplash

Unsplash calls itself ‘the internet’s source of freely-usable images’. It provides free images (photography) for both commercial and non-commercial use. Although attribution is encouraged, it’s not required. That makes it a go-to for web developers everywhere; with no difficult licensing to understand and no complex attribution required, it’s just simple.

Photo by Michael Walk on Unsplash

2 Pexels

If you use WordPress and make use of the free images provided via your media library, those images will probably come from this site. Just like Unsplash, the licensing is simple – “All photos and videos on Pexels can be downloaded and used for free”. Using Pexels via the media library on WordPress automatically takes care of the attribution for you which is an added bonus.

Pexels does give a link to your photographer and allows you to make a donation, but unlike Pixabay you don’t learn much about them.

Photo by Adnan on Pexels.com

3 The Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection is ‘a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health’. You can use this link to search for free, downloadable images taken from the library and museum collections, including paintings, illustrations and photos. This is a great resource for some very unusual images. I particularly like old botanical illustrations and this is a great resource for those. Images are available to download in various sizes and licensing is clearly explained with many images available to use for any purpose. They do ask that you include an image credit (often just the title of the work) and a link back to their site. You’ll see various images on The Epic Compendium from The Wellcome Collection because I love it so much.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis): flowering stem. Watercolour. From The Wellcome Collection.

4 The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Another resource for this type of image is the Biodiversity Heritage Library. You can find images on Flickr or directly from their website. Many of the items in BHL’s collection are in the public domain and free to reuse without risk of copyright infringement, but do check before use, particularly if you plan to use the images commercially.

Image from The Biodiversity Heritage Library, taken from ‘Illustrations of the natural orders of plants with groups and descriptions’. By Twining, Elizabeth, 1805-1889

5 Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia commons is a resource of about 74 million media files. The photographs are of varying quality. If you want beautiful images for your blog this might not be the site for you, and it’s not intuitive to use. However, all that aside, if you know what you’re looking for it can be a great resource. The licensing and attribution requirements are usually clear, and you can download images in several sizes.

No secret to anyone who knows me is that my favourite photographer is Alvin Langdon Coburn. This is a self portrait of Coburn aged 23 from Wikimedia Commons.

Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966); Self-Portrait at Age 23 from Wikimedia Commons

6 NASA

Obviously if you want space images the NASA website is the place to go. Do check the licensing requirements to make sure you’re complying with them as the site says that NASA images, ‘generally are not subject to copyright in the United States’. I take that to mean that you’re free to use them for most purposes, but if your purpose is commercial you might need to check out their media usage guidelines thoroughly to make sure. To find the best images check out the ‘most popular’ header under the image search bar as the ‘newest uploads’ can be a bit dull.

While we’re on space, as a European myself I feel I must add a link to the European Space Agency, ESA, as they also have an image resource available. It’s not as extensive as NASA, but there are some great images available.

Wispy tendrils of hot dust and gas glow brightly in this ultraviolet image of the Cygnus Loop nebula, taken by NASA Galaxy Evolution Explorer. The nebula lies about 1,500 light-years away. From NASA.

7 Rijks Museum

I stumbled across this museum collection by accident, and it’s great. Not only do they have high resolution images to download, they have a Rijksstudio – a resource that enables you to curate your own collection of images and gives you tools and ideas for manipulating them to create your own work of art. I’ve not had time to sit and play with this yet, but the creative possibilities are exciting. The only thing I’d like to see is an option to download smaller, lower quality versions of the images.

I’m assuming that because they provide high resolution images that have a download button, you’re free to use them as you wish. However, as with all commercial uses it is best to double check that assumption!

Self-portrait, Vincent van Gogh, 1887 from Rijks Museum.

8 The British Library

The best way to see images from The British Library is to visit their Flickr page. They say that their “collections on Flickr Commons offer access to millions of public domain images, which we encourage you to explore and re-use.” If it’s images in particular that you want, this Flickr site really is so much easier than trying to find images via their actual website. My personal favourite among their many albums of images is called ‘Space and Sci-Fi‘.

You can choose from various sizes of images for different uses and I find the option to do that very helpful.

The first image is from Space and Sci-Fi: Title: “La Terre: description des phénomènes de la vie du globe. I. Les Continents. II. L’Ocean, l’Atmosphere, la Vie”Author(s): Reclus, Elisée, 1830-1905 

The second image is from the album Myths and Creatures: Title: “A Strange Manuscript found in a Copper Cylinder [A novel. By James De Mille.] With illustrations by G. Gaul”Author(s): De Mille, James

9 Creative Commons

Quoting directly from their website, ‘One goal of Creative Commons is to increase the amount of openly licensed creativity in “the commons” — the body of work freely available for legal use, sharing, repurposing, and remixing. Through the use of CC licenses, millions of people around the world have made their photos, videos, writing, music, and other creative content available for any member of the public to use.’

However, you must follow the licence conditions, and the main condition for all CC licenses is attribution. To help you out, they provide a link for best practices for attribution, but they suggest the ideal is title, author, source and licence. You may also need to include any changes you’ve made to the image, but as with all of these sites always check each image you’re using.

I must admit I find all the various licences confusing. When you’re looking for an image to use right now for a particular project then having to work out what to do can be off-putting, and for photos I’d be more likely to use another site where the usage is very clear across the site. Is it laziness? No, I just want to get it right and I want getting it right to be easy.

The search facility typically leads to a link to the website for the image, in this case it went to Flickr, straight to the image on the photographers photo stream. (I had to search for puppies and obviously when I saw this one I couldn’t resist).

Puppy Love‘ by smlp.co.uk on Flickr  CC BY 2.0 license.

10 Pixabay

Pixabay says it has 2.3 million+ high quality stock images as well as videos and music. You can browse easily and you’re encouraged to sign up for an account. Signing up is quick and easy, but it did take my confirmation email a while to arrive. Pixabay is like Unsplash and Pexels, it’s great for images for blogs and websites.

As a photographer, I think I’d probably be more inclined to submit images to Pixabay because it has a link to buy the photographer a coffee – you can choose to pay for the image you use via PayPal, and you can decide the amount. I think it’s a nice touch. It also seems easier to find out a bit about the photographer and you can follow them to keep up with their work. In fact, browsing around Pixabay and having made myself an account I think I’ll start uploading some images myself very soon!

The usage is crystal clear – for this image it was, ‘Free for commercial use, No attribution required’.

However, you should always try to include attribution; it’s not nice to have absolutely no acknowledgement for your work.

Image by Uschi_Du on Pixabay


Featured image is from Pexels.com. It’s not giving me the name of the photographer – sorry!

Chicken Stew

British Jewish Penicillin with an Asian Twist

This is great for using up any leftovers from a roast, is budget friendly and healthy. This post is more of a guide than a recipe.

My version bears only a passing resemblance to the stew my grandmother made in that it contains chicken and carrots – I think that’s it in terms of similarity although I’m sure hers was authentic Jewish food. Mine can only be called that because I’m Jewish and I make it. It’s probably not Kosher either, although using Marigold Vegan Bouillon would probably remedy that.

Ingredients:

  • Cooked chicken carcass or leftover cooked chicken and stock (I’m using 600ml of stock)
  • Onion
  • Leeks
  • Red chilli or chilli flakes or powder
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Mixture of vegetables. I’m using 4 carrots, 2 parsnips, a sweet potato, half a butternut squash.
  • Red lentils (two handfuls, about 2/3 cup)
  • Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon

The Bit You Can Skip if You’re Rushed – Chicken Carcass

First, strip the chicken carcass. I have three bowls when I’m doing this. One for bones, one for skin and chewy bits that I give to the dog, and one for nice meat that I’m going to keep and add to the stew. If you are unlucky and you don’t have a dog, you can add the gristle and skin etc to the carcass to make the stock but it will add extra fat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with a halved onion and some salt and almost cover with cold water. If you want you can also add carrot and some celery. I don’t like celery so I don’t. Add any bones from the legs or wings – basically all the horrible bits. Put the nice bits of chicken that you can eat in the fridge to add to the stew later. Feed what you will to the dog.

Put the carcass on to boil – you’re looking to reduce the liquid by about 1/2. Just boil it down for a while. I put this on after lunch and let it boil until I’m ready to start cooking, but it doesn’t have to take that long. Just don’t let any fussy kids or fussy grown-ups see it as it doesn’t look great. When this is done, strain the liquid into a jug or bowl and put the solid remains into the food compost bin.

Making chicken stock with the carcass

If you’re using leftover roast chicken and there’s any gel like material in the roasting tin don’t use that yet, but hold onto it to add to the stew later. This is really tasty stuff so don’t waste it.

Alternatively if you don’t want to be bothered with all of this just use cooked leftover chicken and when it comes to stock use ready made.

Drained chicken that I used to make the stock. The yellow bits are lemon – I used lemons to cook the roast chicken and I have left them in for this. This is pretty scary looking.

The Stew

I’m not going to put amounts in here because this is to taste. If you like a thin stew that’s more like a soup then use less vegetables and a lot more liquid. If someone is ill, use more garlic, ginger and chilli because these help unblock noses. If you like ginger, use more ginger. If you hate garlic, leave it out. I used 2 cloves of garlic, one large red chilli and a thumb sized piece of ginger. This gives quite a chilli kick, so if you just want the chilli to add a gentle warmth then use half.

Chop up a leek or two by quartering them lengthways then slicing into small pieces. Soak the leeks in cold water for a few minutes and then drain them. You’re looking to rinse out any little bits of grit or mud that can sometimes get in at the top. If they’re large untrimmed leaks I do this a couple of times. If they’re extra trimmed and beautiful don’t worry, just chop them up and rinse. If you don’t like leek, use an onion instead.

Cut up your veggies into similar sized chunks, use whatever is in season or whatever you like. I vary the amount of vegetables depending on how many people I want to feed.

If you’re using fresh chilli, ginger and garlic then prepare those. I freeze my fresh ginger and chilli, so I cheat at preparation for those by using a microplane grater straight into the pan for all of it as well as the garlic.

Using a microplane for a frozen chilli – this is what’s left over

The microplane works really well for frozen chilli and the seeds just sit on the top so are automatically removed. Fresh chilli isn’t always available in my local shops, so freezing it works well for me and I’ve not noticed any difference in flavour.

When you’re ready to cook the stew (this takes about 2 hours for best results), take a large saucepan (I use the one I made the stock in) and add a small knob of butter and some olive oil. Add your leek and cook for a few minutes, then if you’re lazy like me you can microplane in the chilli, ginger and garlic. If you’re working from fresh, let the leek soften first and then add those ingredients and cook until you can smell the garlic is cooked – probably about 3 minutes or so (the smell of garlic changes as it cooks, but you don’t want it to go brown or get bitter. Soft and cooked is what you’re going for, not browned).

Cook leeks with ginger, garlic and chilli

Tip in the chopped vegetables, mix it all up and put a lid on for 20 minutes on a low heat to give everything time to soften. Add a little water if you’re worried about anything burning or sticking, but if that’s happening you may have the heat too high. There should be enough moisture in the vegetables to stop that. Resist the temptation to keep taking the lid off and stirring it. Just let it be for 10 minutes and check.

Mix vegetables with leeks

When the vegetables are beginning to soften, add in a handful or two of red lentils if you’re using them (I measured this at 2/3 cup). Then add in your stock (from your drained chicken if you’re using it, otherwise a chicken or vegetable stock of your choice) and top up with cold water if needed depending on how much liquid you need to just cover everything. If you saved any gel like stuff from the roasting tin, now’s the time to add it. Give it all a stir and bring it to the boil. For the lentils, you need to let this boil uncovered for 10 minutes. You can skim off any foam that rises to the top, but you don’t have to. When it’s boiled rapidly for 10 minutes, turn it down and let it stew on a low heat. Add a lid and top it up with boiled kettle water if needed and depending on how much liquid you want.

After cooking for about an hour

When it’s been boiling away for an hour give it a taste to see if it needs anything – maybe salt or pepper? I often add a bit of Marigold at this point just because I love the taste of it. Remember that the flavour will come down a bit when the chicken has been added.

The final stew

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, add your chicken pieces – the nice bits that you saved. I let the chicken sit on the top rather than stirring it in as if it makes its way to the bottom too quickly it can burn and it’s difficult to stir the stew with dumplings or matzo balls sitting on the top, which you should also add now if you’re making them.

Life in Lockdown

It’s March 2021. We’re approaching the point where this time last year, the UK went into its first lockdown. It feels like a good moment to reflect on what’s happened this last year, and what might happen in the next few months.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope as well as sadness. My partner had his Covid vaccination yesterday and I hope that I will get mine in the next couple of weeks. My daughter had hers several weeks ago and my eldest son should get his by July. Hopefully the youngest will follow shortly after that.

Like almost everyone, I’ve found this latest lockdown a real struggle. January was worst but I managed to muddle through February staying fairly sane but with an awareness that I would easily slip into depression if I didn’t recognise and tackle things that were having an effect on my mood. By the beginning of March announcements from the UK government about when the lifting of restrictions might happen had been made, and a return to school was in sight for my children. That announcement helped a lot because one of the worst things for me has been seeing my youngest son (aged 16) struggling.

There’s a feeling that life could be back to some form of normal by the middle of June if the pace of the vaccination programme continues in the UK. Thanks to the NHS, that’s likely. My local GP surgery are vaccinating all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The appointments are timed precisely to the minute, and the whole operation seems to be running like clockwork. I was surprised at the amount of relief I felt when I got the text from my partner asking me to put the kettle on as he’d had his vaccine and was on his way home. It was quite an emotional moment. I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but thanks to a lot of very hard working people, we’re getting there.

When the first lockdown came into force, I became obsessed with growing things. I planted so many seeds and grew all sorts. I don’t have a greenhouse but I do have a south-facing porch and so I filled it with seed trays full of courgettes, tomatoes, salad, peppers and whatever else I could get my hands on. I planted more than ever before in my garden and that’s been useful as just last week I was picking home grown kale for a recipe.

This time around I’ve taken to doing a few online cookery classes with Waitrose Cookery School via Zoom just to do something a bit different. I’ve learnt how to cook some new dishes and picked up some great cooking tips. So I’ve been cooking from scratch a lot more as it’s increased my confidence in the kitchen. All the same, I can’t wait until the local cafes, bars and restaurants open and I can eat a meal I’ve not had to plan or shop for that’s been cooked by someone else.

The other thing I want to do when the restrictions ease is see my daughter and her fiancé without being worried about not being able to hug anyone, then I want to go to the cinema, and then book in a trip to London. It’s funny to realise how important going to the cinema is to me; it wasn’t until cinemas opened after the first lockdown and I immediately booked tickets for The Empire Strikes Back that I knew how much I had missed it.

Through this whole time I’ve continued to keep a diary almost every day, a habit I developed as part of self-reflective practice on the photography degree. There’s not a lot going on, but I can always find something to write about and I find I write more and more each day.

At the beginning of the lockdown last March, I had a lot of photography I knew I had to get on with and catch up on. I’d been to London in early February and that, as usual, had been inspirational and sparked a lot of new ideas. So the first couple of months were okay. I found I had a lot of ideas I wanted to pursue although there were some I couldn’t because of the restrictions. I had begun some work on religion and had several contacts lined up to photograph and interview as part of this. I got one interview done and then had to stop. I didn’t want to put myself or anyone else at risk for the sake of a photograph.

Some self-portrait work during the initial lockdown in 2020

I tried some self-portraiture with mixed success. There was a story I was trying to tell, but being stuck indoors I felt I couldn’t quite get there; the emotional aspect of the work was getting to me. There was a brief but not total respite during the summer in terms of lockdown, but it didn’t help with my creative block. I visited family in London, I saw my mum which always leaves me with mixed feelings, but as a family we didn’t feel comfortable travelling or staying overnight anywhere so we didn’t get any real time away from the house. We did get out to a few restaurants and shops. I felt safe going out to eat, but I didn’t like the experience of shopping anywhere – not being allowed to touch or pick things up before you buy them, not able to try make up, it all ended up being easier to just get online and so my bad Amazon habit has just got worse, even though for a few weeks I purposefully tried to always look for an alternative locally before I resorted to bolstering the earnings of Jeff Bezos.

My great-aunt Viola died from Covid aged 99. This portrait is from 2018.

My photography has reflected how I have felt the last year, that I’m living in some endless day in this house that is repeated over and over, and the only punctuation points are the days I walk the dog. These days represent the furthest I travel from the house during lockdown periods. There’s a bench at the furthest point on my walk, and some time during June 2020 I took to sitting at it whenever it was free, and taking a photograph from that point. That’s built up into a photographic project during lockdown which is a diary and probably hundreds of photographs all taken from the same point on the same camera for the same reason, usually on the same days. As the restrictions in England come to an end, I think it’s likely to coincide with the time this project really kicked off for me and I will have a years worth of work that perfectly represents how I have experienced life during this period. I’m going to start adding those images and extracts from the diary to my main photography site soon, and will probably put a shortened version of it on this site.

Transfer Images to Plaster

How to Transfer an Image onto Plaster

This post will show you how to transfer a laser printed image onto plaster.

Keep in mind that this technique probably won’t give you a perfect result. For me, part of the reason for this process is the introduction of slight imperfections that add character to the final piece.

Steps:

  • Create a plaster base (method below) using Plaster of Paris in an appropriate waterproof container.
  • Make a laser print of the image you want to transfer.
  • Coat plaster and image with gloss or matt acrylic medium and allow to dry.
  • Transfer image.

Creating Your Plaster Base

To create the base first prepare a mould. I use take away containers or other plastic from my recycling that has been cleaned and dried.

How much plaster to mix depends on the size and thickness of the work you’re creating but I used 300g of plaster and 150ml of water to create a block that was about 10cm x 15cm and 2cm deep.

Mix two parts Plaster of Paris to one part water, or according to instructions on the pack. Pour the plaster into your mould immediately and let it set, preferably overnight. While mixing, wear gloves and a mask and wipe up plaster spills immediately. It’s not terribly dangerous stuff, but you don’t want to breath it in or get it in your eyes.

If you want to hang the plaster plaque, fix something to the back of the mould now.

When dry, first gently sand the surface of the plaster using fine grade sandpaper. Dust it off and then apply acrylic medium to the surface of the plaster where the image will be. It really soaks it up, but apply a couple of coats and let each one dry thoroughly before applying the next. Gloss tends to give a better result if you don’t mind a shiny look, but I like matt medium and the added textural quality from the imperfections that are introduced.

Preparing & Transferring the Image

Print your image on a laser printer. Apparently this also works with a photocopy, but I haven’t tried it and so cannot recommend it. Inkjet will not work for this technique.

Remember when you transfer your image it will be reversed, so if you’re using text or you want it to appear exactly as it was, reverse it before printing so it comes out the right way.

When you’re ready to do the transfer, trim your image to size, coat the front of it with plenty of acrylic medium and lay it face down on the plaster which you should also coat with acrylic medium again at this point. Both image and plaster should be liberally coated with it. Then, gently but firmly, rub or brush the back of the image to get rid of any air bubbles and to encourage the paper to stick to the surface of the plaster. Pay particular attention to the corners and edges. Carefully remove excess acrylic medium with a damp sponge or kitchen towel.

The plaster block with the image stuck on face down

Leave it all to dry thoroughly. I often become impatient at this point, but if the acrylic medium has not dried properly then there will be gaps in the final image.

When dry you might find that parts of the image haven’t stuck to the surface of the plaster properly or have bubbled up. If this happens then using a sharp craft knife, carefully cut into the bubble to make a slit, add more acrylic medium, press it down firmly and if you think it’ll help cover with baking parchment followed by something heavy on top to stop the bubbles forming.

Using baking parchment stops any acrylic medium that escapes from sticking and tearing the paper when you remove it.

When it’s all dry and well stuck down, gently rub the paper from the surface of the plaster. It helps to moisten your fingertips before you do this. In circular motions, gently rub the paper with your fingertips; this will remove the paper but leave the image stuck to the plaster surface. You’ll see balls of wet paper forming and underneath that your image will appear. Keep going until it’s all revealed and clean.

When all the paper has been removed and everything is dry, you can add paint or other embellishments to the surface.

Sealing the Image

If you want to seal the plaster, use a few coats of acrylic medium. Just make sure everything is thoroughly dry beforehand or the surface of the piece might bubble. You could also try a spray varnish.

Other Methods for Transfer

Instead of using acrylic medium, you could try using citrus solvent to transfer your image. Print your image with a laser printer, apply the citrus solvent to the back of the paper, and rub the back of the image very hard to transfer the image onto the plaster. You might have to do this several times to make sure the image has transferred, so don’t move the image until you can see the result.

Why You Might Use Plaster

I used an image transferred to plaster to represent fragility, imperfection and decay. Using this technique, the finished piece is never going to be perfect; there will be flaws – areas that didn’t transfer, bits crumbling off, etc. To initiate and hasten the decay I left my pieces outside on an exposed windowsill for several months, causing the images to bubble and fade, and areas of the plaster to rot.

Decay and Surface Bubbling

How I Dealt With My Dog’s Separation Anxiety

I have a rescue dog, Jasper, who has always hated being left alone. I’d had two other dogs before Jasper, worked in a kennel as a teenager, grew up with dogs and have done volunteer work as a home checker for a dog charity. So I had quite a bit of experience with dogs but I struggled with this problem – so don’t worry if you’re struggling too.

You need to teach your dog how to be left alone so try to approach this in stages if at all possible.

When You Do Go Out, Make Sure Your Dog is Safe:

I put up physical barriers both to stop Jasper being able to hurt himself and to keep him to one part of the house so he’s not wandering around a large area. For my house these were a gate to the kitchen and a stair gate. The aim is to keep your dog to one or two rooms so that they can’t wander through the whole house. Obviously make sure there is water available and that they are left somewhere familiar. Look around the room and work out what they could hurt themselves on (yes, it is exactly like having a toddler). Assume if they can hurt themselves they will. They are stupid enough to chew through electric cables, they can eat whole boxes of tissues, they can kill themselves by eating the squeak from a dog toy.

Jasper loves chocolate and will steal it whenever he gets a chance. He got into the larder one day and stole several bars of dark chocolate. This impromptu meal involved a trip to the vet, enforced vomiting, a stomach full of charcoal and a sleep over of several days. I’m determined he’s not going to do that again, and the physical barriers of gates are the only way I can be sure of stopping death by chocolate when I’m not around.

New bins with lids he can’t lift with his nose were essential for Jasper. If he does manage to get to them he can’t open them. Again, this is from experience; he was very ill after eating the contents of a bin shortly after he arrived because I just wasn’t expecting a him to be able raid it and eat the contents.

Make Leaving Positive:

I got Jasper something called a lickimat and I really cannot recommend this enough. He wasn’t interesting in a Kong or other toys, but this worked immediately. It uses the idea that dogs lick to calm themselves – licking releases endorphins and so they feel calmer when they lick. The lickimat is plied with various treats, I mainly peanut butter (you don’t have to buy a special dog version but make sure it is Xylitol free), meat dripping mixed with grated carrot (yuk), liver paste for dogs, crushed biscuits or whatever is safe for dogs and will squish into the mat. You can really cram food into it and it’s difficult for dogs to get it all out if it’s sticky.

I approached using the mat in stages. First, I gave Jasper the mat a few times when I was at home so I knew he couldn’t hurt himself with it and that he liked it. I let him watch me preparing it too. As soon as he’d finished I took it away and hid it.

Next I let Jasper have the lickimat when I got ready to go out so he was distracted at that point – a point that used to cause him stress. You have to be aware of where the stress point is for your dog; Jasper knew that shoes and a coat meant I was leaving. When I noticed this I occasionally put shoes and a coat on, kept them on for a bit and took them off again without going anywhere. Now he’s not so sure I’m leaving when I have shoes on so seems less stressed about it. I’m just a strange human who sometimes wears a coat in the house for no reason!

When I make the mat he sees it happening. The mat is so special for him that it is the centre of his attention – this even beats his ball obsession. The mat is ready and he knows it and doesn’t care about anything else. When I’m ready to walk out of the door I give him the mat.

I’ll stress again that he only gets the lickimat when I go out; as soon as I get home I subtly swipe it, clean it and put it out of reach.

Make Sure Your Dog Gets Practice:

Dogs need to practice good behaviours. Most of the time I can keep Jasper with me, but I am aware that if there was an emergency and I had to leave him then if he wasn’t used to it, it would be unfair on him. I make sure he is regularly left alone for an hour or so as it gives him practice.

Like a lot of dogs, during lockdown he went backwards in terms of separation anxiety as he had the whole family around all day. When lockdown lifted I knew I’d have to start all over again with training him to be left alone and it was a real pain.

Jasper’s lockdown; cuddles all day, every day

Getting Extra Support:

I employ a dog walker. I know I’m lucky to be able to do this and that it’s not an option for everyone, but it has been great for Jasper because he loves the different walks he gets a couple of days a week and the new doggy friends he’s made. It’s been great for me because now when I do have to go out for a whole day I know that the dog walker will take Jasper for a decent walk and settle him in afterwards, that he’ll pop in and let him out in the afternoon, or will keep him for the day depending on our arrangement and how long I’m gone for.

If you can’t use a dog walker and you don’t have family or friends nearby that can help you could always try something like ‘Borrow My Doggy‘ so that your dog gets to know someone new who might like to help out occasionally. I’ve done this in the past and it worked well for everyone involved.

It can be very stressful when your dog is anxious every time you go out and it can end up feeling like an insurmountable problem. But there is hope. Jasper is still not where I’d like him to be, but with a little effort and common sense we’ve overcome a range of unhelpful behaviours together, and doing that has really strengthened the bond between us. I loved my previous dogs, but I get so much more from Jasper because I’ve put so much more in. And yes, spaniels are harder work than some dogs and they need a huge amount of exercise (Jasper typically covers about 8 – 10 miles a day on his walk), but they are worth it.

Make Challah for Shabbat

Despite my lack of religious belief I recognise that there is a power in the routine and structure of keeping Shabbat. It’s a difficult acknowledgement for me because I seem to fight both routine and structure at a visceral level, but Friday night was an important part of my childhood and I kept that desire to set Friday night apart when I had my own family.

Whatever goes right when I keep Shabbat has a knock-on effect for the rest of the week. Making Challah bread is a big part of that, and along with lighting candles on Friday the ritual provides structure that my life is lacking elsewhere. Obviously you don’t have to be Jewish to do this, and you could pick any day to mark out as special. I find it a helpful thing to do, especially during times like lockdown when one day can start blending into the next.

Chocolate Chip Challah.

The Recipe

I have tried various Challah recipes and I think this is the best. It is adapted from Claudia Roden’s ‘The Book of Jewish Food’ and it makes two loaves which is what you need for Shabbat.

If there’s any left after Friday then the chocolate chip version is great toasted and eaten with marmalade, and plain challah is excellent as French toast with cinnamon, blueberries, honey and greek yogurt. I’ll post that as a separate recipe later on!

Ingredients for 2 Challah

  • 1 pack easy blend dried yeast
  • 250ml lukewarm water
  • 50g sugar (75g for sweet version)
  • 2 eggs (plus extra yolk for glaze)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 650g strong white bread flour
  • (50g dark chocolate chips)

Method

Measure everything out. If you want to make this in a food mixer you can just chuck everything (except the chocolate chips if you’re using them) into a mixer with a dough hook and set it running. Keep an eye on the mix – it should look slightly sticky but come together into a smooth dough. If it looks dry add a little more water, too wet add a little more flour. It takes about 5-10 minutes to mix.


If you’re making it by hand then add about a teaspoon of the sugar and all of the yeast to the warm water. Stir well and leave for 10 minutes or so until it all froths. (If it doesn’t froth you’ve probably forgotten the sugar. I do that a lot).

In a large bowl, beat together the two eggs and then beat in the remaining sugar, the salt and the oil. Add the frothed yeast mixture to that lot and give it a stir. Then add the flour bit at a time and mix. When you can’t mix anymore knead for 15 minutes or so until the texture becomes stretchy and elastic.


You’re after a dough that is a teeny bit sticky – it shouldn’t be too dry, but it should eventually lift off the edges of the bowl into one smooth blob.

With either method, when you get this smooth, stretchy dough put it in a large greased bowl, cover with beeswax food wrap or a clean damp tea towel and leave to rise somewhere warm for a couple of hours. It should double in size.

When it has doubled in size divide it in half so you will have two loaves.

Split each half of the dough into three to make strands approximately 30 cm or so in length. For each loaf plait the 3 strands together on an oiled baking sheet and leave them to rise for another hour or so. Then beat the yolk of an egg and brush it over the bread to glaze it (freeze the egg whites as they’re good for meringues).

Bake for about 40 minutes at Gas 4 180°C, or 350° F until it’s brown and sounds hollow when you tap the base. This does get very dark because of the egg glaze; don’t worry it’s not burning and the texture is amazing as you get a good crust with a soft inside.

The only advice I’ve found useful for plaiting Challah is to start in the middle and plait to the end, then start in the middle again and plait backwards. There are a lot of people far more adept at this than I am so give YouTube a try if you can’t work out how to do it.

Sweet Chocolate Chip Version

I often make half this dough chocolate chip just by adding about 50g of dark choc chips to one of the two loaves before plaiting. However, if you know at the beginning that you want all the challah to be chocolate chip then use 75g of sugar instead of 50g in the initial mix. Put the chocolate chips in after the initial rise before you plait it, not at the beginning of the process.

At synagogue plain challah is torn up and served with salt; you can sprinkle some on before eating. At home we have it with salt or with butter, but always tear it rather than slice it.

Happiness and Gratitude

If you’re feeling down a good idea is to write down at least three things you’re grateful for as a daily habit. I started to do this some time ago and quickly saw an improvement in my mood along with a more positive general mindset and a greater sense of self-worth.

I began this as a response to finding the Action for Happiness website, printing up their ‘Ten Keys to Happier Living’  poster and gradually trying to incorporate some of these ideas into my daily routine.

The American psychologist, Martin Seligman, conducted a study in gratitude. The essential essence of his findings were that grateful people are happier. You can read about this research in a book co-authored by my partner, This Book Has Feelings, if you’d like to find out more.

‘Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an ‘upward spiral’, helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation – the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.’

Action for Happiness Website

Sitting in the local leisure centre waiting for my children to finish their swimming lesson, I began to write my first small list of things I was grateful for. I saw a toddler in a red and white striped bathing suit enjoying the water. At that moment, my mood was lifted by the sight of the joy being experienced by a little girl I didn’t know. So that was one of my first entries, one of the first things I wrote down that I was thankful for. And having written it down means that I still remember it now, and the memory of it still makes me happy and I am still grateful for that moment.

Some days I do this I have to stop myself writing pages and pages of things I am grateful for. Other days I struggle to find more than being alive, my family, and having a roof over my head – but that’s a lot.

I think back on the very difficult times in my life and wonder if this advice is up to the challenges I faced when I was homeless, when I suffered a miscarriage, when my mum was put into a psychiatric hospital, when I was taken into local authority care as a child? But it is. Even in those times I had things to be grateful for, even if it was only the fact that I was alive and somehow managing to cope with horrible situations. And now I can look back and know that I am a person who has made it through; I am very grateful for that.

Taking time to notice all the things I have to be grateful for is the most effective step in improving my mood I’ve ever taken. It encourages a healthy way of looking at the world, because when you’re actively looking for the good things in your life more and more of them show up. So if you’re feeling down this is certainly worth a try.

If You Feel Depressed, Do This Now

Feel Better Now

My partner is a psychologist, so when I saw a talk with Martin Seligman and Richard Layard advertised I told him about it straight away. I watched about 2 minutes of it with him and I learnt something that might be useful to share on this blog, where part of what I write about is steps I’ve taken to improve my mood and increase happiness. 

Go and find someone who needs help, and help them.

Martin Seligman

I’m paraphrasing here, but Seligman said he’s often asked by people with depression what is the one thing they can dnow to feel better? He said he tells them to go and find someone who needs help, and help them. Altruism is the most powerful tool we have to keep ourselves happy.


(Featured image from the Wellcome Trust Credit ‘A depressive man standing by a country pond in the pouring rain – not helping his state of mind.’ Wood engraving, 1869.. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))

Feeling Anxious? Try CBD Oil

Four Great Reasons For Using CBD Oil

I’ve been using CBD oil daily for a couple of years. It has had a lot of positive effects on both my mental and physical health that I’d like to share.

Pain Relief

1 I initially tried CBD oil because I’m allergic to Paracetamol and I began showing signs of an intolerance to Ibuprofen too. This was a nightmare for me, as I was left with no access to painkillers. So when I developed a flu that lasted for a couple of weeks that left me aching all over, I was so uncomfortable that I was willing to try almost anything. 

I visited several health stores and did some research online to find an alternative painkiller, and eventually someone suggested I try CBD. 

CBD is derived from cannabis. I’ve never tried cannabis as I’ve always avoided drugs of any sort because my mum has severe mental health issues. Having a mum who is psychotic, it’s always been important to me that I am in full control of my own mind. Plus my ex-step-father, who I disliked intensely, took drugs. But I looked into CBD and found that the psychoactive component is removed which gave me the reassurance I needed to give it a try. 

I initially took about four drops of oil and my assumption was that it probably wouldn’t work at all, but that if it did any effect would take several weeks of regular use, with a gradually increasing dose, to become apparent. I sat on the sofa feeling miserable and ached from head to toe.

An hour and a half later the pain had completely gone.

The instructions said to take the oil 2-3 times a day, and so I decided that I’d continue on a gradually increasing dose, twice a day for a week or two, until I was fully over the cold symptoms.

Anxiety

2 However, as well as the initial pain relief, I started to notice a lessening of the anxiety symptoms I’d been suffering. For a long time I’d been experiencing waves of anxiety and panic, seemingly for no reason, and was really struggling with it. I didn’t want to start taking the prescribed medication that my GP was recommending because of all the nasty side-effects. But within a week of using CBD regularly the anxiety had lessened considerably, and I’ve continued to make improvements ever since. 

I really can’t overstate the positive effect using the oil has had on my anxiety symptoms; they seem to have completely disappeared. It is difficult to put into words, but I feel I have some stability or boost that I needed or that the anxiety reaction is just not there in the way it was before. That’s what the doctor claimed the anti-depressants would do for me, but using CBD I’ve had no side-effects whatsoever. The panic feeling has just disappeared.

Sleep

3 Then there has been the effect on my sleep. Before I started taking the oil I was waking up every single night at 3am, and this had been going on for about three years, maybe more. Maybe two or three times a year I’d sleep through, it was that bad. No matter how much exercise I did, no matter how careful I was about keeping to good sleep habits and regular sleep times I couldn’t solve the problem. But when I began using CBD oil the situation improved instantly. I now sleep through the night almost every night; one or two nights a month I wake up at 3am. It wasn’t an effect I was expecting. 

Chronic Fatigue

4 My daughter has chronic fatigue syndrome and she’s tried CBD oil. She says it helps her ‘about 40% of the time’. She’s found herself able to function for longer than she usually would when using the oil. However, she does not take it regularly and is on a lot of other medication which could interfere with its use.

How I Take It

I take CBD daily. I put the drops of oil under my tongue and leave them there for a few minutes. When you begin taking the oil it tastes foul, but you get used to it quite quickly and if you keep it under your tongue you don’t really taste much anyway. I then swallow it down with a little warmed milk. I don’t know if this is the best way to take it, but it works for me!

Creative Photography Ideas and Personal Reflection