Friday, September 26, 2014

The Joy of Blogging

Did you see the article in the New York Times entitled "When Blogging Becomes a Slog"? You know there is something in the water when it warrants an article in the New York Times. 

I have been sad to see some of the top bloggers find blogging too much and press the pause button. One of the first hints of trouble in blogland was when I read about Erin's plan to embrace the Slow Blogging Movement  on Design for Mankind a few years ago. Erin had been blogging for years and found she wanted less - less keeping up with the internet and more story-telling from the heart. Then there were lots of rumbles about how other social media was taking over and spelling the death of blogging. And most recently, I was sad to read about the blogging break that John and Sherry from Young House Love (one of my faves) needed to take. They were finding it difficult to produce as many posts following the birth of their second child in April. I read YHL daily so they have been sorely missed. Even more disturbing, however, were the negative comments left on their blog bashing them for everything from their taste in decorating, to their attitude, to the supposed decline in quality of posts. I have yet to understand why someone would read a blog they didn't like and appreciate and take the time to write a comment stating their opinions.

When I started blogging four years ago things seemed a little different.  Blogging was more relaxed, the relationships seemed more like you were chatting over the fence with a neighbour. Over the years I've seen things change around blogland.  I've noticed things are more competitive, more perfect, and busier these days. Now a blogger is expected to not only create quality original posts on their blog, but also keep up with all the social media platforms as well. When the expectations are so high it can only lead to burnout and frustration.

At the same time I see lots of bloggers wanting to change things - make it simpler and more personal. I don't know where blogging will be in 10 or 20 years, but I do know that there is lots to love about blogging.

I've recently embraced Pinterest and love it as a place to collect ideas and inspiration. I love to follow some of my favourite bloggers on Instagram and get little glimpses into the day-to-day business of their lives (okay I'll admit it, I'm nosey). I don't really know much about Twitter and I avoid Facebook as it is so confusing and there is so much negative stuff on it. Like blogging though, all these social media platforms to a greater or lesser extent allow you to tell a short story, post a photo or two, document projects/life/inspiration, and engage in some interaction with followers. 

So what does blogging do well? Why do I keep blogging? Where is the joy in blogging?

Blogging allows for a place to write about what I'm creating and to find inspiration at the same time.  Blogging (unlike with other social media) allows you to expand on your ideas, to tell a story, to teach something, to put a personal spin on the inspiration

This past winter was a difficult one for me. I blogged like it was my second job right up until my father passed away just before Christmas and then I stalled. I had ideas, but no energy to focus them into a post. The weather was terrible and our dog was sick (and then passed away) and I just seemed to need to cocoon. My husband and I spent our time (when we weren't at work) engrossed in watching Korean dramas together. We shored each other up together in our mutual obsession with a nation on the other side of the world and with actors and actresses we didn't know. When summer came and life settled down, I was ready to blog again. I realized I had missed it, I wanted to take pictures with a purpose. I wanted to go through the creative process, and do fun projects around the house, and make things pretty on purpose. 

Blogging for me is just a hobby so I'm not under the pressure that John and Sherry from Young House Love are, but in order to remain motivated for over four years I had to ponder what engages me and makes me want to blog. Here's what I came up with:

1.  I blog to learn - I love learning new things, whether it be computer skills, photography, or how to do things. I love that blogging pushes me in new directions. For many posts I Google background information about the history of a town or house or area so I'm learning something new. I'm often having to learn a new recipe or craft that I want to make for the blog. I love being a life-long learner and blogging encourages me to do this.

2.  I blog to be inspired - There are so many ideas out there. It can be overwhelming and humbling, but it can also be so inspiring. I challenge myself to find new ways to do things, new recipes to try, new ways to decorate the house, new solutions to problems. I love putting my brain to work.

3.  I blog to be motivated - It gets 'er done! Yay for being motivated. I'm really slow at finishing any project, but blogging has helped me set goals for myself and light a tiny fire under me to get them done (still slowly, but not quite as slowly as before).

4.  I blog to be creative - One of my greatest joys about blogging is how much I have learned about photography. It gives me a purpose for taking pictures of all kinds of random things like cookies and mushrooms in the forest and pretty clouds - so I can share them with you. I love figuring out new ways to do things and trying to challenge myself to come up with yet another advent calendar or front porch decoration or sideboard arrangement. I love getting those creative juices flowing.

5.  I blog to remember - Seriously, I have such a bad memory and blogging helps me remember what we have done and when things have happened. And probably the most important thing blogging helps me remember is the recipes I have made. I love that search button on the sidebar and use it to find my recipes all the time.

5.  I blog to connect - I love the interaction from blogging. I'm not the best at keeping up with the blogs I read and leaving comments, but I do enjoy the interaction and get satisfaction from getting to know people all over the world.

What's my take-away from all this pondering. First, I do like blogging for all the reasons I listed above.  Secondly, I should try shorter posts - one picture and a few sentences - since that seems to be the modern modus operandi. Blog like it is Instagram. And finally, I need to take the time to leave comments on blogs that I visit. You never know when that blogger friend just might need to know that they were doing a great job and are appreciated.

What are your thoughts on the state of blogging?  Why do you blog?

Monday, September 22, 2014

So Long Summer, Hello Fall


Fall is officially here! We've had such a cool summer and early fall that it seems like it has been fall for awhile now. The funny thing is that I feel like the leaves are late turning colours this year so it just feels like fall, but looks like summer.  

I got my fall decorating mojo on and changed up the sideboard and picked a bouquet of weeds for the table. I've always had a thing for wildflowers - maybe it's the price - but I think it is just as much the relaxed country vibe. All I know is that this bouquet of goldenrod and aster flowers makes me smile.

I've finally started falling in love with some fall colours like orange and mustard yellow. How did that happen? All I know is that I have an orange t-shirt, an orange sweater, a mustard yellow sweater, a mustard yellow striped shirt, a mustard yellow striped dress, and a mustard yellow fall jacket. Yep, it's official I must like fall colours. They used to be my least favourite, but now apparently not so much. 

I decorated the sideboard with the mustard yellow runner we made last year in art class with leaves printed all over it (and in case you were wondering I did my best to iron it, but the wrinkles wouldn't go and the ink was coming off, so I left it). You can read about how we made it here. Then I gathered up a collection of things that were brassy, pottery, or orange and voila. I carved the oranges at both of our previous Christmas Craft parties (which you can read about here and here) and the pinky maple keys are from our Amur maple tree in the backyard. I don't remember the keys turning such a pink colour in previous years, but I like them. I picked a bouquet of them a few weeks ago and now they are dried. 

One of the things I love most about fall is getting back into cooking soups for dinner. I love soups and have already made my favourite one twice this month. You can see it below - it's a sweet potato peanut soup with an awesome blend of flavours (the recipe is here). So yummy. What's your favourite soup? I'm always willing to expand my repertoire and I obviously need to.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Building a Photo Library for Painting

We are having a special class at the art studio I attend on how to take good photographs so we can each build an inventory of pictures to have on file for painting. Knowing that I was a photography buff I was asked to do a short presentation. And in preparation for my presentation I have written my tips and ideas up as a blog post. That way I can organize my thoughts and collect my best photographs to illustrate my points and maybe you will learn something new as well. I would love to hear any ideas I might have missed.
I'm not really a big fan of painting outdoors because it is hard to get comfortable and capture the scene before the light or clouds change or the bugs drive you batty and I really don't feel comfortable with people looking at the art I am working on. So I have built a stock of inspiring photos that I can use when I want to paint something from the comfort of my desk.

One thing that seems to hold people back from working on their photography skills is thinking they need to have fancy-schmancy camera equipment. I want to assure you that the small point-and-shoot cameras and even the tablets and phones these days take great photos. They aren't as flexible in terms of exposure and focus and they may not do well in low light conditions, but in most situations they take great photos. And with even the most basic camera you can work on improving your composition and lighting skills and thereby improve your photography.

A couple of years ago my husband bought me a good camera, but prior to that I used a point-and-shoot camera that cost no more than $150 to take all my pictures. The only vacation I have taken my good camera on was the most recent trip this past summer to Newfoundland.  

While I'm not a photography expert, I have learned a thing or two
 by taking so many pictures for the blog. So here are some tips I have compiled to help take better photographs.

1. Vary the light source. Typically, we are advised to have the light source behind the photographer, but sometimes the best shots are when you do something a little creative with the lighting. Look for low lighting from the side to create nice contrasts of light and dark. Or try looking toward the sun which can create interesting photos since you get strong shadows, sun flares, and highlights on semi-transparent things like flower petals. 

Speaking of light, the best time of day for photos is the "golden hour" - the hour or so just after sunrise and before sunset. You get lovely indirect warm sunshine and avoid the harsh shadows and glare of midday lighting.

2. Take pictures from unusual angles. By positioning yourself down low and looking up at something or up high and looking down on it, you will get more interesting photographs. 

3. Move in close. Your photos will be much more interesting and engaging if you move in close to your subject.

4.  Frame your photo. Most scenes (and landscapes in particular) appear to have greater depth if the photo is framed with branches or plants or even by looking through a door or window.

5. Keep the background simple. Often the sky can provide a nice simple background, but if that isn't possible then try an uncluttered row of trees or a field of grass. Most importantly avoid having distracting objects like wires or poles coming out of someone's head. 

In addition, it is helpful to keep a lot of white space (blank areas) around the object being photographed which helps draw the viewers eye toward the point of interest.

6. Practice the rule of thirds. Photos generally look best with an off-centre composition. Try to have the main dividing lines (like shorelines or tree trunks) or focal point in a photo be approximately a third of the way from the edge. While off-centre doesn't have to be exactly thirds that is what is generally recommended and many camera lenses and editing software have grid lines at the one and two-third lines already marked on them.

7. Make sure the photo is crisp and clear. Work on keeping the camera as still as you can - use your free hand to support the camera and hold your breath while you take the photo. You can also use a tripod or at least lean against a chair back or wall or tree trunk when the lighting is low so you can get as clear a photo as possible. 

Also try taking several shots of the same scene changing the focal point in the pictures to see what works best. The same scene looks different when the tree branches are sharp and clear and the ground is out of focus as compared to focusing on the moss on the ground while the tree branches are softly blurred.

8. Repetition is a good thing. There is something so appealing about repetition of objects in a photo. Often there is no real focal point in this type of photo, but the interest is in the texture, colour, and lighting of the objects,

9.  Rules are made to be broken.  Sometimes the best shots are the ones that break all the rules - for example, the centre of interest is in the middle of the picture or the horizon is along the bottom instead of the traditional third-way point. That's where trying things out can help. Go crazy and have fun. Thank heavens for digital photography.

10. Take lots and lots of photos. Experiment, experiment, experiment and take a million photos to find out what works for you and to get a good shot. Sometimes the photos that I was least expecting to turn out, end up being the best (and you can't always tell from the screen on the back of the camera). Try and take a lot of photos so there are many to chose from when you look at them later.


Once you are home and have looked at your photos you may realize that they could do with a little tweaking. That's where photo-editing software can help. There are lots available for free online - the one I use is PicmonkeyPhoto-editing is useful for all the usual things like straightening the photo, cropping it, and adjusting the exposure, but there are a few specific things you can do that may help you use the pictures for painting

You can make your colour photos black-and-white which allows you to observe the light and dark tones in the scene.  Some artists do a pre-sketch to plan their painting indicating where the shading is in the picture. Making your photo black-and-white will assist you in doing this.

You can also use photo-editing software to enlarge certain areas which often makes it look abstract in the process. You can also blur, pixalize, or change the colour of pictures to help you create interesting effects that may inspire a more abstract painting. I have done a few as examples to show you what I mean.

And finally, I use Pinterest (even though you sometimes annoy me Pinterest) to build a photo inventory. I have boards labelled Scenes I Want to Paint and Painting and Sketching Inspiration.  I think they are pretty self-explanatory, but oh so useful.