Road trip week two; city stop, hilltops and gardens, gardens, gardens.

Florence was never on my must do list. The way this trip gradually came together it made sense to take a few days and “do it”. Well there is the Boboli gardens to look at we thought. Driving through the city centre was ok until the sat nav tried to take us up a street that was blocked with road works. With the the “sat bitch” telling us to “make a u-turn” J did his best to navigate us out the other side and to our hotel which was on the outskirts of the city. The Hotel Mulino is on the river and it was nice to come back to after a day in the tourist packed city. Shuttle bused in, we walked towards the Ponte Vechio. “ooh it’s not that nice to look at is it?” we both thought. The glamour was to be found on the bridge not looking at it, as the bridge now houses jewellery shops. One after the other. J quickly walked me on with mutterings of “this is like the lanes in Brighton only worse”. We arrived at the Pitti Palace where the Boboli gardens are. Walking around we had a sense of disappointment, perhaps it was the rain dampening our mood? But we felt like we were somehow missing the good bit, maybe it’s round the next corner? It wasn’t. The highlight/central feature of the fountain on an ‘island’ surrounded by lemon trees in pots was even unsatisfying. There wasn’t any water flowing through the fountain! We walked on to see the Bardini gardens (included in the ticket price), which were small but gave more somehow. A beautiful rill of water flowing around the garden and 15th century steps with a stunning view down into Florence.IMG_0043

The pick up point for the shuttle bus was outside the sister hotel of where we were staying – they had a roof bar (and roof-top swimming pool!). So we decided to wait for the bus up there, with a glass of wine, of course!! Wow, what a view.

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For us two full days in Florence was enough. As we didn’t want to queue for any of the main attractions like the Duomo, it was enough time for us to walk our feet off and soak up the vibe.

IMG_0045The hills were calling. Off to Tuscany. 12 years ago we went with my parents, how can it be that long ago? It makes me feel soooo old. We wanted to do a quick trip down memory lane, revisiting the highlights. Montepulciano, Montalcino and Pienza. All up hill, down hill, except one. It sure got the glutes working! We managed to do a few new things as well, including a natural hot springs, Bagni San Filippo, with stunning calcium formations and the pungent smell of sulphur!!

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Sitting in the grey pools of warm water, I tried not to be too British as the soft yet oozy sensation of the mud beneath my bottom and hands made me feel slightly squeamish. It was pleasant and disgusting in equal measure. Hand washing our bathers in the hotel sink later was interesting! Eating dinner in Montalcino that evening we had the best meal/ pasta of the trip so far. It was a local pasta, pici, which is like a thick spaghetti, but hand rolled, served with a ragu sauce. The taste was immense and we are still talking about it almost a week later! Simple fresh ingredients, done well.

The weather was starting to turn and we were having to make sure we always had our umbrella with us. Leaving Tuscany heading further south beyond Rome we arrived in the region of Lazio. It rained constantly and heavily the whole day. Tired, over dinner at the agriturismo (B&B), we tried not to notice just how loud Italians can be when grouped together. Anything over 4 people and wow the volume goes up and up! When we went up to bed a group of children arrived for a party, it was gone 10pm! Earplugs is all I have to say.

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Ever since we saw a programme that Monty Don did on Italian gardens we have wanted to see the gardens of Ninfa. The gardens are built on the ruins of the medieval town of Ninfa. Billed as ‘the most romantic garden ever’ it had a lot to live up to. It was stunning. Even with the tour in Italian (we missed the one english tour that morning) it was gorgeous. You can only visit with a guided tour but they make sure that you saw each notable vista in your small group. So it can still feel semi-private and you can get a good photo without crowds in the background.

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Next on our list of gardens was Villa d’Este in Tivoli. However after re-reading Monty’s book we decided to visit Hadrian’s Villa first (Villa Adriana) as he comments ‘To understand any of the gardens of Italy made in the 16th century – you have to visit Hadrian’s Palace and the Canopus. This is where those gardens came from.

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It was a shock to see how vast the 2nd century AD UNESCO world heritage site was. Roman ruins and olive trees on a scale never seen before. We walked and we walked. Almost 2 hours later we were ready to see the high renaissance gardens of Villa d’Este. Again guided by Monty we rushed through the villa and out into the garden and tried to make our way to the bottom of the gardens without looking at too much. As the garden was originally designed to be seen from the old road from Rome and make your way back up the steep hill. With over fifty different fountains in the garden the water is the repeating theme.

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Some overwhelming in how loud it was, the Fountain of the Organ ,

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some peaceful like the 3 rectangular fish ponds and some that you will never see repeated in another garden,

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the 130 meters of the Hundred fountains. This is one garden that is definitely worth visiting if you can in your lifetime.

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Road trip week one; mountains, lakes, fast cars and vinegar

Starting anything at 2.30am has never seemed a good idea to me, however J likes to make an early getaway whenever we travel. This road trip was no exception see here for previous post about why road trips are a good idea! After the ease of the Eurotunnel, we sped along motorways into Belgium (50p for a pee in the service stations 👎) and Luxembourg (or Luckybourg as J nicknamed it), then back into France for our first overnighter in Nancy. We were well into our comfort zone being veteran Francofiles and soaked up the funky decor, delicious food and familiar sounds of church bells… night night.

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Refreshed we drove off to new adventures in Switzerland on lake Thun. Stunning was the word we kept coming back to. J insisted that he could ‘smell the fresh mountain air’ in the car! After dropping our bags at the hotel, we took a much needed stroll around the town and then out along the lake’s edge. Half an hour sitting on a park bench staring at the mountain and lake views was the best mindfullness either of us had done in a long time.

IMG_0018.JPGDinner was interesting, with the menu in Swiss, but with the help of some very friendly staff we ate a Gurk & Wurst starter (gherkins and cured sausage) and then a spicy sausage with spätzli (Swiss style dumplings) for J and goats cheese for me. Driving out of Switzerland the next morning, promising to visit again, we noticed how they stuck to the speed limits, this was not the case over the border in la bella Italy!

Modena was our first stop, staying at a balsamic producers for three nights. First we needed to see some fast cars at the Enzo Ferrari museum. The exhibition housed in a fairly small and sculptural building (shaped like a car bonnet roof, in yellow), was dedicated to women and their love and connection to these beautiful supercars.

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Across the courtyard was another exhibition, this time dedicated to the “prancing horse” engines. It took you through the years of each engines evolution. Brilliant for men and engineers, wasted on me if I’m honest! We were recommended by other guests at the B&B to visit Mantova, which has a museum of Chagall’s work, beautiful buildings and it was delightful. On the way back to the B&B we stopped off for more cars at a farm that produces parmesan cheese. Wow! A private collection of 40 cars mostly Maserati’s and classic motorbikes. We were blown away and we had the place to ourselves, €5 for a guided tour, or free if you just walk around on your own like we did, brilliant. Next day with no fixed plans we headed off to Parma, which turned out to be a bit too busy and a bit disappointing, it was a Saturday and market day, but Mantova was better (for us). A lazy afternoon by the B&B’s pool (a refreshing 18 degrees, no I didn’t go in) set us up for a traditional local style meal that evening. The restaurant served 16 different ‘types’ of meat boiled or roasted, we were told to go hungry. I was one of only 4 other women eating there that night, so it gives you a clear idea of their typical client! Great fun. On the last morning near Modena and before we headed off to Florence, one the owners of Il Borgo del Balsamico, Cristina, gave us a tour and tasting of their balsamic vinegars.

IMG_2145What an eyeopener, unlike other liquids aged in barrels, such as whiskey, sherry or rum, balsamic vinegar casks can last a lifetime, as apposed to 3 or 4 years for the former. Being taken through what started as a passionate hobby of her fathers 50 years ago, she and her sister Silvia now run a successful business. Patience is the keyword with balsamic vinegar as it takes at least 12 years before you can bottle anything to use or sell! We both felt privileged to have a better understanding of their craft, we will never be able to look at another bottle without checking the ingredients (any colourants and it is not a true aged balsamic, whatever the label says!). And that the heart of this road trip was going to be the people we would meet along the way.

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Open Studios time again

The silly season for professional artists is in full swing, Open Studios. I am a member of the Open Studios West Berkshire and North Hampshire scheme. It was set up in 1987 by the late Pat Eastop MBE as a non-profit organisation to celebrate the diversity of visual arts available within the local community. It strives to create a dialogue between artists and the community by encouraging members of the public to visit artists’ studios.

Every May over 100 artists open their studios and exhibitions free of charge and are happy to talk about their creative process with visitors. We work to make entering any art space a comfortable experience, to encourage and promote accessibility to art and artists. Works of arts are normally for sale but there is no obligation to buy, the focus is on enjoying your visit.

Open Studios is organised entirely by a committee of volunteers made up of artists and other professionals who generously donate their time each year to ensure the scheme runs efficiently and within budget.  I am one of those volunteers and countless months, weeks and days of work are finally behind me. Now all I can do is send off a few last Press releases and visit some studios. I tend to open my studio every other year, giving me time to refresh my work and free up time to get inspired by my colleagues.

So far I have visited Diana Barraclough, ceramicist www.dibarraclough.org.uk, in Hungerford. With her this year she has painter David Jones, print and book-maker Mavina Baker and fellow ceramicist Emily Myers. We visited them on their pre-view evening which was bathed in soft early summer light. This made the stroll around her garden to view the totem poles and bird baths a delight, enhanced further by the glass of red wine so generously and thoughtfully given to me upon entry. Cautiously making our way down steep steps from the main viewing area, on the ground floor of her beautiful home, we emerged into the basement and the creative heart of the studio. Sketchbooks open on worktops needed to be flicked through, small vessels begged to be held. Inspiration was drawn from the Cornish coast, small sea birds, water and fishing boats were abundant.

Contentedly we walked all of 5oo yards along the road to our next studio, painter and drawer Shirley Cartey. Whilst the landscapes swept you from local scenes of Coombe Gibbet in the UK to the Grand Canyon in America, I found myself drawn (excuse the pun) to her beautiful life studies.

A few days later I set off, on my own this time, to visit fellow photographer Giles Penfound www.picturesonapage.net . Even though it is now technically May, heavy April-like showers greeted me as I arrived at his home in Newbury.  I have been admiring his black and white landscapes since he joined the scheme last year and wanted to take the time to meet him. His work, for me, has a commanding use of contrast and composition. Happily Giles and I found ourselves in that artists bubble where we chatted easily about film and digital photography, equipment likes and dislikes and the feeling of solitude that can be overcome when you open your studio to strangers.

Visiting peoples homes and studios can be a daunting thing for the public, but if you have the opportunity I urge you to try. It can be so rewarding. Just pick ONE out of the brochure, or from the website and go, what have you got to lose? www.open-studios.org.uk

All photographs are the property of the original artist.

Polaroid project – emulsion lift

Weeks of research into emulsion lift techniques were finally coming to fruition.

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Searching around the house for my old darkroom trays, I found only one, and a tiny one at that. The others must be up in the loft and I wasn’t prepared to go up there. So I dug out some foccacia trays my husband uses for his baking and gave them a quick wash. He’ll never know, will he!?

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The first stage is to cut off all the white borders to the polaroid image, thus allowing the separation to happen. So I took my first experimental Impossible project polaroid image of orchids and trimmed it, see here for how I made the image. Laying out 2 trays on the kitchen counters I placed near boiling water into the first one and cold water into the other.

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Sliding the trimmed polaroid image into the hot water I saw tiny bubbles appearing underneath the surface of the image. My excitement grew as I waited at least one full minute to see if it was going to work. Starting in one corner of the image I tried peeling the positive from the negative part. The two parts should peel easily, they didn’t, so I plunged the image back into the water for 30 seconds and tried again.

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Yes! It was working, I couldn’t believe it. I was removing the white negative part (the back bit) and separating the transparent positive part.

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Using a soft brush I cleaned the remaining chemistry on the positive part, gently cleaning it in the hot water.

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I had removed the negative part but still had to free the emulsion from the transparent foil. Plunging the image back into the hot water again for 1 or 2 minutes I started teasing the gel emulsion off using a soft brush.

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Amazingly the jellyfish-like emulsion was floating around in the water. I transferred it to the clean second tray of water and slipped in a piece of watercolour paper ready to receive the gift of this disembodied image. Gently teasing the limp emulsion with my brush I coaxed it into position. What relief and joy, it really worked!

What an amazing experiment! I can’t wait to try more.

The tools I used were: 
1 instant photo
1 or many soft brushes
1 pair of scissors or guillotine
1 carrier surface paper but it could also be wood, plastic, glass…
1 tray filled with hot water
1 tray filled with cold water

Polaroid project –

Testing times…

Once I had got over my initial nervousness and excitement of just putting the film canister into the Polaroid Sonar SX70 camera, it was down to business. Creative people will tell you (if asked!) that it can take some of us some time to get into the right ‘head space’. So focus, not the camera’s but mine, was needed. Closing the door on the rest of the world (and my husband), gave my creative inner-being the chance to rise to the challenge I had set myself.

My passion is for still lifes and landscape images. For this project I thought that it would be more practical to stick with an indoor still life. I have been eyeing up some glorious white orchids and decided that they would be a great subject matter. Placing them alongside a big window to take advantage of the natural light I set about pushing the ‘sonar focusing’ button halfway down. As I began to press the shutter button, the camera released sound waves to the central part of the scene. The frequencies are beyond our range of hearing and travel at the speed of sound. Pretty advanced for something made in the 1970’s! The split second it takes for the sound to reach the subject and the echo to return is fed into a tiny electronic computer inside the camera. The computer uses this time measurement to calculate the distance between the camera lens and the subject, then signals a motor to turn the lens until the subject is in sharp focus.

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Once the subject is in focus I could then press the shutter button fully and Hey Presto! out popped the film positive with a satisfying clunk and whirring sound. Contrary to popular belief and OutKast – Hey Ya! DO NOT SHAKE IT LIKE POLAROID PICTURE! Leave the precious thing alone, face down with something not too heavy on top to stop any extra light getting to it whilst it develops. The equivalent of us laying down in a darkened room springs to mind.

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A few images were taken for me to be able to experiment with in the next stage, the Emulsion Lift. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I couldn’t control myself and I had used all 8 frames of my first pack of film. This was mainly due to me thinking there were 10 frames in the pack! Shame. Development take longer than I thought. For the colour film Impossible Project state 6 minutes and for Black and white 1 minute. In my experience the images fully developed at least 3x longer than that. Initially you think that the image isn’t that great, but once patience has been exercised you can see that it looks pretty good!

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The next thing I had to do was use all the research I had been gathering and try and make an emulsion lift and create something that I would be proud to add to my online shop.

Polaroid project

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‘New’ Photography project with an ‘Old’ Polaroid camera

I am excited to start a new photography project with this old 1970’s Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. I think it is pretty much as old as I am! For years I have wanted to try both emulsion lifts and image transfers. After lots of research, I finally decided to get a new ‘old’ camera and try my hand at this much longed-for technique. This model has autofocus and allows for manual focus as close as 10.2in (26cm) so I hope that will help when I come to take my own images.

New film has been ordered and on it’s way courtesy of Impossible Project. They have done some fantastic work making sure photographer’s  like me can still experiment and explore the wonderful world of polaroid photography. Hurrah! As they say on their website “The SX-70 Original was the first instant SLR ever made, and the first camera to use integral instant film. It’s also one of the most beautiful cameras ever made, with a folding brushed chrome body and leather trim. Beloved by artists and photographers since Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams.

I hope that this project will be everything I’m wishing for! I’ll keep you posted…

Design Collaboration with VIDA

I’m excited to collaborate with VIDA for this collection. VIDA is a new kind of fashion ecommerce company that connects artists like me all over the world with producers to bring our work to life. For every product sold, VIDA hopes to provide the gift of literacy to the makers they work with.

I have shown images of my 4 favourite items from this collection.

VISIT MY COLLECTION AT: http://www.shopvida.com/collections/deborah-taylor

Enjoy 15% off your purchase using code Welcome15 (Until 06/10/16)

I hope you enjoy, thank you,

Deborah