Light and details. Tuscany

There’s  something special about the light in Tuscany. The last few days has been a parade of misty mornings, sunny days and stormy afternnons resulting in some stunning landscapes. Here’s just a few.

Tuscan morning
Morning light. TUSCANY


light 3
Stormy skies. Tuscany
Evening light Tuscany
Evening light. Val d’Orchia. Tuscany

When I haven’t been absorbed in the larger landscape I’ve been seduced by the details. The polished doorhandles, small window decorations, intricate patterns on the church facades. Everywhere is detail and it brings another level of richness to travelling in Italy.

Rome. Doorknocker
Ornate doorknocker. Rome
Church facade. Orvieta
Church facade. Orvieto


window detail
Window detail. Tuscany

Sometimes the two coincide in a happy moment of serendipity as happened this morning while I was visiting a small and beautiful 12th century cloister in a tiny village. The sun came out casting wonderful shadows through the black and white arches and lighting the fiery red geraniums in their terracotta pots.

detail and light
Sunlit cloister

Amidst all the pleasures of travel light and detail are top of my list.

A holiday short cut.

We just dropped our friends off at the airport yesterday and we’ll see them again in a week – in sunny Tuscany! I’ve packed the suitcase, sorted out the travel art kit and charged all the electronics. I’ve had the holiday haircut as well and it’s a little shorter than usual!

I have a strict haircut routine – when it starts to annoy me I go get it cut. In the lead up to this year’s holiday it started to annoy me some time ago and I tried desperately to hold out until closer to the off date but in the end I just couldn’t stand it ONE MORE DAY! So in I went and asked for a cut that would last me eight weeks – a pretty short cut thanks.

We chatted away as you do at the hairdressers- trying to take my mind of the ragged, lined and aging face in the mirror. I’m pretty relaxed about getting older, I started going grey in my early forties and never even thought about dying my hair, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy looking at my chicken neck for 30 minutes in the only mirrors I know that magnify every imperfection a thousand fold. Personally, a two minute session morning and night during the teeth brushing ritual is all I really need thanks.

Anyway, as we chatted the hair fell and I zoned out a bit until I heard her say ” I think a number 2 at the back and we’re done. A  number 2!!!! That’s really short – I know this because my second son has a perpetually no 2 shaven head- and I secretly long for the waist length locks he sported in his late teens. He never would let me plait it despite my pleadings – I was allowed the honour of chopping it all off one midnight when he got fed up with it. I wasn’t brave enough to take it short back and sides like he wanted and settled on a below the collar bob.

He asked me to cut it one Saturday just before he left for his pizza delivery shift and I promised I would when he got home. As soon as he was out the door I raced to google how to cut long hair and had a pretty intensive hour browsing tutorials and watching YouTube videos. By the time he got home I was feeling quietly confident. It all went to plan until I got to just below the collar and then I realised why hairdressers spend a 3 year apprenticeship learning how to layer and thin and generally tidy up the ends of wavy, fine hair. I was armed with good scissors, a comb and my trusty spray bottle of water so all I really lacked was knowledge – and experience. I’m afraid the final haircut bore testament to my lack but I’d left enough that the local  ( fully trained) hairdresser rescued it pretty neatly a few days later.

So , back to me sitting in the chair and hearing the number 2 at the back statement. I zoned in and noticed that it was looking a tad sparse on the top, spiky and swirly, but not anywhere near a number 2 so that was a bit of a relief. With the mirror held so I could see the back the number 2 was evident. I was a bit surprised at how acquiescent I’d been during the whole cut – I think a spot of hypnosis might have been employed – but I had asked for a short cut and there was no denying it was a short cut!

It took a few days for my work mates to start commenting on it – I think they were a bit stunned at first and wanted the weekend to mull it over. The general consensus is that it’s a very fetching look and I should keep it this way. People I don’t even know are stopping me in the corridor to tell me how good I look ( of course this could just be a reflection of how bad my previous cut was !).

Well , that was work . The Writer thinks it makes me look old and tired  and I had to point out that I actually feel old and tired so it’s probably just reflecting the real me. I did add that I always perk up and feel 10 years younger on holiday so not to worry. I was able to take the moral high ground with Second Son who enquired if I’d come out – it was a pleasure to remind him that stereotyping people wasn’t very cool ( usually the sons are making unnecessarily patronising statements  about any views, opinions or passing comments I express). The IT Geek said he didn’t approve of such homophobic comments but felt any haircut that made it possible to see the colour of someone’s scalp was just plain awful. So not an unequivocal success on the home front. All in all it’s a good thing I’m a strong, independent woman who can take uninhibited critique from the men in my life.


Now I’ve had 2 weeks to settle into it I’m a fan. It’s going to be really cool in the heat of an Italian summer, there’s so little of it I no longer have to worry about “helmet hair” when riding my scooter to work , I instantly lost that last kilo I’ve been trying to shed and the savings on shampoo will probably fund my next hair cut. I feel ever so slightly trendy , a lot lighter and ready for a holiday.



Coptic bound book

I’ve really got the book making bug at the moment – I tend to go in cycles of enthusiasms that parallel my main painting passion and help to balance out my creative life. Last night I finished my first attempt at coptic binding and I totally enjoyed the experience. I found a lot of useful tutorials online and this one by tortgialla was very helpful in giving me a good idea of how it’s done. Any faults in my stitching are down to me not the well photographed and clearly written instructions in the tutorial!

The Cover

I’d made covers before so that wasn’t too difficult. In fact I made a double cover because I wanted it a bit thicker , so I just covered two pieces of mat board with different fabric and then glued them together and weighted them overnight to make sure there was a strong bond.



The signatures

I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary swotting up on book binding – that’s one of the things I love about diving into new crafts. It’s like I’ve now got the secret password to an exclusive club. I can decode the articles and tutorials and understand the nuances of  specialists writing about their passion. So I now know that a signature is not only a written name but is also a collection of papers stacked on top of each other and folded in half. A number of signatures together make up the inner pages of a book. Book is a term I already knew in case you were curious.

So I made up six signatures with each having 4 sheets of ivory Mi Tientes pastel paper.


The tricky bit!

Now I had to join the signatures to the covers and to each other and that’s where the coptic stitching comes in. If you want to know more about how to do this there are plenty of online tutorials and videos . What with threading and re threading my needle, holding covers and papers  tightly, manouvering the needle while holding the paper and the covers tighty, while also pulling the thread tight, and putting band aids on fingers after mistaking flesh for paper there wasn’t much time for taking photos! You might have noticed there’s a bit of an emphasis on keeping everything tight! This is because you want the pages to be snug against the covers and each other so the book doesn’t move around too much. Mine is OK for a first attempt but I think I need to keep it all a little it tighter next time – not sure how I’ll do that but I expect it’s like everything else and just requires a bit of practice.

Stitching to the cover was quite tricky , especially as I tried a bit of a fancy pattern for my first attempt. Once that was done the signatures were plain sailing and not fiddly at all – I think this was helped by using a curved needle which was a tip from the tortagialla tutorial.

Coptic bound book
Coptic bound book


The IT Geek wanted to know was it worth all the time it took and I gave a resounding YES. It’s a very satisfying thing to create your own book and even more satisfying to then fill it with your  prose, poetry, and art. I’m going to make a library of them – there’s a ton of different stitching patterns out there and I may well have a go at creating my own. Then there’s the long stitching method of attaching the signatures directly to the spine of a leather cover – I’d like to try that as well. …and maybe some wooden covers ………..

Hakea magic unfolds.

Hakea bud
Hakea bud.

Out for my walk at the weekend I picked a branch of Hakea that was sporting some tiny buds. I liked the geometric pattern against the green leaves. When I got home I plonked it in a bottle of water on the kitchen sink and got on with the 101 things I had to do that day.

Emerging Hakea flower
Emerging bud.

While I worked my way through the day’s “to do” list magic occured at the kitchen sink.

Slowly  the brown outer petals ( I know there’s another word but it escapes me at the moment!) opened and a tightly packed lime green ball emerged.





Hakea bud.
Unfurled Hakea bud.

…and then the petals dropped one by one to the counter top and the lime ball expanded bursting into a giant sunshine yellow mass of stamens with just a hint of pink on the stems. I was pretty impressed by the speed of change from a tightly closed brown bud to this stunning fluffy ball of sunshine. Little did I know what was to come!




10The next morning brought another surprise – overnight the stamens had fully unfurled to delicate slim ‘pins’ with tiny lime tips. The white pins were sticking into a bright red pincushion flower. The transformation was amazing! Where did all that sunshine go? How was it changed to red? As the day progressed the white stems deepened to a blush pink and the bright red took on darker tones.



Now I have a beautiful vase of Hakeas gracing my kitchen in all stages of development. I’d love to plant a bush or two but first I’m going to do the wildlife test and put the remains out on my lawn ( once the blooming has finished) and see what the wallabies think. Going on previous form Hakea will be viewed as a tasty addition by the chef to the garden buffet!



















Mother’s Day – handmade with love.

I wanted to make something personal for my Mum this Mother’s Day. For me as a mum the gifts I appreciate most are the one’s that show thought and caring, maybe they take a little time , like a board game or tell me that my sons know me, like  a travel set of brushes. So this year I decided money was out it was time to make something – after all I make stuff all the time for my Etsy shop , for other clients, and just for my own pleasure.

Mum and I took a road trip in New Zealand last year so I decided to make her a personalised concertina sketch book of the trip. It’s an expression of my love for her and my appreciation for those 10 days we got to spend together with no one else to interrupt our conversations or hurry me off to the next place I have to be. Time is a precious commodity I usually meet out stingily so it was a joy to have time to talk, to laugh, to moan, to rejoice, to ponder, to be silent – together. Thanks for those 10 days Mum – and all the other days of my life when you’ve been the one who gave me your precious time and love.

And no – I’m not letting any cats out of the bag – we had Mother’s Day lunch today !


Oh – and I printed the gift box with a ewe and lamb in a nod to our family name- Woolley!

Inspiration is sometimes right on your doorstep.

I was thinking about what I would do with my Saturday when I noticed all the gum leaves lodged against my back doorstep ( no judgment please!!) Now for some of you that might have been the nudge you needed to start a clean up day but not me – I was more interested in the shapes and colours of the leaves than in cleaning them up! Here’s a few pics of what resulted.

It’s always worth checking your back doorstep if you’re looking for a little inspiration.

See it, make it, share it- my raison d’etre

I read a book on mud brick houses, go out and do a weekend workshop and plan on building my own ….one day. Actually it will have to wait until The Writer heads off to the next life as any mention of building has him muttering about the “divorce house”. I can’t help it – I just see something I love that hits my creative g spot and I want to try it for myself. Once I’ve tried it I want to share how easy, satisfying, frustrating, energising, fun, rewarding or just plain crazy it was to tackle the project.

Most of the stuff I create comes from a deeply internalised belief that if I think hard enough about how to do something, read up on it, seek the wisdom of those who do it well and then just jump in and try something good will result. That’s not to say it will be good the first attempt but every artistic endeavor adds to my store of knowledge and the next attempt is incrementally better.

I mull things over, I dream of new projects, I buy supplies and lay them up for when the mulling bears fruit. I want to try EVERYTHING! I know I should probably settle for a few things and do them really well but I’m fascinated by others artistic and creative outpourings and I start down a new path before I know it.

Right now it’s bookbinding. I’ve never done it before or been to a class but I saw a simple concertina sketchbook in my art store and decided I could make one. So I did – and then some more adding little windows, then a travel book with a fold over cover and I just interrupted my first attempt at a leather covered book to write this! In between I’ve been googling images and reading blogs and tutorials and have ammasssed a good understanding of some basic techniques. It’s never been so easy to get good information for new ideas.

So this blog started because I’ve been amazed at,  and grateful for, what’s out there on the interweb – I wanted to add my slim store of knowledge and experience. I’m interested in what inspires others to blog , this simple mantra inspires me.  See it, Make it, Share it!

A painting that the blind can see

Recently a work friend asked me to paint her a large acrylic painting – she just gave me a few hints- water, maybe a rock or two and some sand. I’m used to clients being pretty prescriptive about what they want. There’s usually a photo or three and several emails before we settle on exactly what I’ll be painting and how. My friend was very open – she just wanted those blue green waters and the rest was up to me. It was such a pleasure to paint that I felt I hadn’t really earned my fee – so I decided to donate a large chunk of it to the Fred Hollows Foundation. So now whenever my friend looks at her painting she will know that four people can now see because she asked me to to paint it. I kind of like that thought.

Rock and seagull
Rock detail – East coast colours.

This years handmade travel journal

I shared a tutorial on a hand made concertina sketch book earlier this year which was inspired by a trip to my local art store. Just last week I popped in again and came away with an idea for this years travel sketch journal. Of course the art shop had a lovely little number but at $65 it was a bit pricey – I was recovering from a pre holiday trip to my favourite shop for the well endowed woman in need of reinforced swimwear- the bill was still  weighing heavily on my mind ! So instead I bought an $11  sketch pad and headed home. Once there I searched around for cutoffs and scraps and in no time at all had whipped up my own version which will be just right for our trip to Italy ( only 14 sleeps to go!!)

Canson sketch pad

Materials I used

  • purchased sketch pad
  • mat board off cuts
  • pva glue
  • elastic
  • cutting mat
  • metal straight edge ruler
  • pencil
  • craft knife
  • 250gsm kraft card

Step 1. Marking the covers for cutting

Here I’ve taken a piece of mat board which is stiff enough to form the covers. The Front and Back are the same size – the size of the pad. If you want to make your own just adapt the measurements to your sketch pad.

I need to make one of the spines slightly wider – the thickness of the mat board in fact. This will mean the fold over flap will sit comfortably on top of the front cover. I make the fold over flap roughly 1/4 of the front cover width. Now I cut along the solid lines with a craft knife using my metal ruler to keep everything nice and straight.Cutting guide

Marking the covers
Marking up the covers

After I cut this out I decide I want the cover to be slightly larger than the sketch pad because I’m going to add a brush holder next to the pad so I’ll need a little extra space for that . Luckily I’ve got plenty of mat board off cuts so I just cut a new back cover that’s 2cm wider. I do this quite often – redesign as I go – so it’s no surprise to find I have a lot of offcuts!!!

Step 2 Cutting out the front cover windows.

I love having a cover window or two ( in this case three) so I can add some mini paintings later which will hint at the journal contents. I just mark and cut out 3 square windows at equal distance from each other. I leave a larger gap at the bottom as I think it balances out better. You can leave this step out entirely or cut one big window instead if you prefer. This is a great way to personalise your travel journal.

front with windows

Step 3  Centering the covers and glueing to the cloth.

I take a scrap of bookbinders cloth and lay it face down. Now I assemble my cover pieces leaving a small gap the width of the mat thickness between the cover boards and spines. An easy way to do this is use some matchsticks as spacers . I just eyeballed it. This gives flexibility so the covers will open and close smoothly . ( not the eyeballing – the leaving of spaces!) I mark the cloth 2cm wider than the covers all the way around and cut out. Next  I spread pva glue all over the covers and cloth smoothing it out to the edges . Best to put in all on some scrap paper before you do this step but I was in too much of a hurry and so had to clean up the dried glue off my cutting board later! Now I press down firmly smoothing from the centres of each board out to the edges making sure there are no air bubbles.

Glueing in the covers
Glueing in the covers

Step 4  Neatening the edges.

Quickly before the glue dries I turn in the cloth around all the edges and press down firmly making sure it’s snug against the edges. Now I slash from corner to corner in each window frame and glue the triangle flaps to the cover board. pulling tight as I go. Next I glue a piece of thick sketch paper over the windows on the inside of the cover so when I turn it over the windows have little white inserts. At this stage I also use the blunt edge of a knife to run a crease down the gap between the spines and the covers.


Step 5  Adding an elastic closing strap

I wrap a piece of wide elastic all the way around the back cover and cut it 2cm shorter. I butt the ends together and sew with a wide zigzag stitch to secure . I position it 3 cm in from the  spine closest to the front flap with the join on the inside of the cover. If you’re wondering what the black oblong is it’s a piece of fridge magnet I used to try out a magnetic closure but it turned out not to be strong enough. Another redesign on the go!

The elastic could be any colour you like as an accent feature. I initially wanted black but only had white and I think it was a lucky thing as the white looks good against the black cover.

Step 6  Attaching the lining paper.

I cut the kraft lining paper to fit inside the covers leaving a tiny 3 mm edge on the black cloth showing. Smoothing out from the centres again to get rid of any air bubbles. I get out the blunt knife and run it down the creases in the spine gaps. The little white thing is a tiny piece of elastic I glued down to the spine to hold a brush or pen. I just cut a slot in the kraft paper to slip over the elastic.

Lining paper
Adding the lining paper.

Step 7 Inserting the sketch pad.

Lastly I remove the front cover of the sketch pad and glue the back board to the back cover. I push my favourite travel watercolour brush into the elastic holder, fold the flap over and flip the elastic band to secure it. Ready for Italy!!


This travel journal might seem a bit slim for a 5 week holiday but the 50 pages mean I’ve got one a day with a couple to spare. I’ll be using it for my round up each night and be using a small store bought sketch book for my out and about sketching during the day. Let’s see how it goes!