Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spreading More Fiber Love

Shareholder Leslie and I introduced thirteen ladies to the world of fiber and spinning, and blew their minds.  You know how it is when you see yarn spun from fluffy fiber for the first time - it's like magic.  The incredible structure and behavior of wool is nothing short of awe inspiring.  Add Leslie's vivid color blending and novelty spinning techniques, and it's almost too much to take in.  The ladies at First Baptist Church, Garland, won't soon forget today's class.

 Leslie made a wonderful display of different fiber types: alpaca, yak, cotton, bamboo, mohair, different wool breeds, silk, dyed locks...  a feast.

She's a self-taught spinner and batt carder, who, unspoiled by too much expert instruction, has created some gorgeous yarns.

 The ladies were in jaw-dropping sensory overload.

 Leslie was a little nervous, but she did a fantastic job of explaining the sheep-to-skein process.

 That's her proud mama looking on from the sidelines...

 She blended several different colors and fibers together to make a chunky art batt...

 ... which she then spun into a bulky art yarn before their very eyes.

Then it was the ladies' turn to try their hands at drop spindling.  It's always so confusing at first, and everyone feels like they're all thumbs.  But they persevered.

Finally, we started to hear some "aha!" moments going on around the room.
That's my favorite thing.  Aha!

I'm thinking about Leslie and her mom, who are off to the Taos Wool Festival today, as well as several other friends of mine.  Lucky.  Me, I'll be doing a little retreating of my own, and will be out of radio contact until Monday.  

If you're a shareholder, watch your inbox for an e-mail newsletter detailing the distribution of the 2010 Harvest.  I really think you're going to like your Share. xoxo

So, have a wonderful weekend, friend!

Dividing the Spoils

2010 JRF Shareholders have reason to rejoice tonight - thanks to the merry band of Fiber Elves, their shares have been carefully weighed and measured into green farm bags, and await distribution.  What a wonderful night with Laurie, Brenda, Chris, Mary and little Rowan.  Thanks, Elves!  There will be details about how the fiber will be distributed soon - after I get some sleep... 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sheep! Sheep!

Farmyard fun on film.  Today I played with the video capability of my new camera.  So happy to share some critter antics on this cool fall morning with you...

Monday, September 27, 2010

My New Best Friend

The new Canon camera arrived today, and I broke it in by dragging it to the feed store,

Ed and James load my truck up with hay.

and into the pastures at feeding time. 

Ezra contemplates his supper, recently consumed.

Judah lets anyone lurking down by the creek know that his sharp teeth are on duty.

It's very hard to get a chicken to hold still.

Judah looks peaceful, but he's a nanosecond from romping across the pasture.  Brisk air makes him frisky.

Guineas on the Gate.

Dirty Suri is not bothered a whit by his muddy condition.

Jethro the Fractious has a pretty face, belying his ornery disposition.

Portrait of horsey-faced Boaz.

I'm just pointing and shooting for the moment - trying to learn all the controls.  So many knobs and buttons!  (Totally opposite of the Holga we played with on Saturday.) 

I don't know about you, but I'm a manual reader.  I read the manual when I get a new piece of equipment.  That's going to keep me busy for a while.  So glad I can "burn" tons of virtual film while learning how to use this camera. 

Artsy stuff is down the road a ways.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Uh Oh. Instant Retro.

I was going to learn some patience, wasn't I?  Oops.

A certain enabler, who shall remain nameless (but it rhymes with Nicki Shores) told me about an app for my Droid phone that takes "vintage" looking photos, in the style of several old classic cameras.  No waiting.  NO.  Waiting.  This could be very good, or very bad.

You be the judge.  I downloaded the free version of the "Retro Camera" app, grabbed the nearest model, and burned some virtual film:

 The Pinhole

 The Bärbl

 Another one with the Bärbl

 The Xoloroid 2000, B/W Option

 The FudgeCan, B/W Option

Holga-esque vignetting, but not totally accurate - note the rectangular shape of the image.
Holga images are square, normally.
This is another free app called "Vignette Demo."

These are neat effects, and it's cool to have them as handy as my phone, but on the other hand, it's kind of like cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the microwave.  It's just not the same.

Even I make pumpkin pie from scratch.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suffering For Art

Well, it's not suffering, really, just severe inconvenience, which is sort of mild suffering.  I refer, of course, to waiting for film to be developed.  Digital photography has spoiled me rotten. 

Kris, Wendy, Ellie, Marlene, Brenda and Lynn explored the Holga camera today in the LRB.

But Ellie is tempting me to wade back into that world where good things may come to those who wait.  Her Holga Photography workshop today gave us lots of creative ideas to chew on and to dream about.  All those photography "rules" I talked about the other day?  The Holga taunts us to break most of them, just because of its low-tech, primitive limitations.  It calls us to stretch our brains and use those limitations as a launching pad to beautiful images.

 Ellie vividly described artistic concepts in terms all of us could understand, and she backed them up with gorgeous examples.

And Ellie knows what she's talking about - oh, the gorgeous images she shared with us to illustrate all the wonderful "tricks" the Holga can perform in the hands of a practiced artist.  But not all the images resulted from careful planning - many of them were serendipitous treasures that come from just the crazy combination of light, time, angle, film type, developing skill, quirky subject, and random chance. 

 Loading the Holga is a low-tech operation.  There's nothing automatic about this toy camera.

You look through a square hole in the plastic which serves as a viewfinder, press the plastic tab that operates the shutter, advance the film by twisting the plastic knob and watching the numbers scroll past the little red plastic window on the back until you're at the end of the roll, pop out the roll, lick the tab to seal it shut, and mail it off to Timbuktu.  Ellie develops her own black and white film, which cuts down some on the delay, but without that specific talent, you begin The Wait.  Did your masterpiece stick to the film?  Only time will tell. 

 The rain stopped in plenty of time for us to move out of the "lecture" into the hands-on application.  And we scritched some critters, too.

I hate to wait, if you haven't noticed.  I was shocked that we didn't have to wait very long for our Share Fiber to come home from the processor and that was such a joy.  I'm still waiting for my new camera and I'm going just a little crazy over it.  I knit with bulky yarn so that I can finish my projects faster.  I really hate to wait.

 Lynn and Wendy plan out some great shots together in the pasture.

But I know that waiting is not a bad thing.  In fact, it grows patience, perseverence and uh, character.  I wash my dishes by hand, on purpose, to slow myself down.  I have a stoneware snail in my garden to remind me to stop rushing and breathe.  I make my own yarn, for crying out loud.  I really want to mature past this need to have success and lasting artistic achievement NOW.

So I welcome your reminders to sit down, slow down, and make some time-consuming art once in a while.  Maybe with a Holga.

ETA: I forgot to mention that Ellie is developing the pictures we took here today and she will publish them to a Flickr set for us.  I'll let you know when they're available, and you can see what first-time Holga-ers can do...  After we wait a bit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvest Home

Fifteen days elapsed from the day I dropped the fiber at the post office until the FedEx man pulled into my driveway.  That's a new land speed record.

I'm still in shock.

Mary Bensel (GrandmaTutu) was here at the house when it came and we had to drop everything and pop the boxes open.  We plunged our hands into the first bags we came to and yelped in delight.

There's just no way this fiber could be lovelier.  We have several colors of pure alpaca, some heathered Jacob wool and one blend that contains both soft, soft wool and alpaca.  The harvest is just gorgeous.

As usual, I need to thank Lynn, Laurie, Amy and Barbara for their help getting the fiber from hoof to harvest.  This is a lot of poundage here.    Lynn has sent us detailed washing instructions so that the next time I can do a better job, and she will shave even more time off her incredible turn around.  We may not always get to be first in line at the mill, but with this kind of service, even standing in line won't be a problem...

Now, I'll need a little time to divide all this lusciousness up and get it ready to distribute to the shareholders.  I'll let everyone know when it's ready to go out the door.

And of course, you know what this means:  The 2011 Shares are about to become available!

This is how it will work - current shareholders may opt to get a 2011 share beginning TODAY.  E-mail me and I'll send you a PayPal invoice for the same great price as last year.

Folks on the 2010 waiting list who did not get a share may jump on board and get a 2011 Share after October 8.  I'll e-mail each of the waiting list folks to confirm that they are on the list and let them know that their option period has begun.

On October 16, the day of our big "Share the Harvest" Holiday Gift Market, we'll open up shares for everybody else.  The price will stay the same for the third year in a row - $150 for a full share.

Need to budget?  This year we'll offer half shares for $75.  Half the fiber, but all of the fun.  We hope this will help more friends join our merry band!

OK - now I'll get to divvying up the spoils.  Stay tuned for details...

Farm Kids

Like thirsty little sponges, the kids soaked up the farm... the smells, textures, sights, and sounds.  I enjoy it like it's brand new when I watch the little ones discover this place.  Today I was privileged to welcome two home school families - two moms and twelve kids - for a tour of the farm and some exposure to spinning and wool craft.

Hannah meets the alpacas.

The boys begged me to let them scoop poop.  Really.

Feathers make a great take-home souvenir.   And we have plenty for everybody.

Nate is off to meet the guineas.

A little show-and-tell in the studio.

We take turns treadling the Babe spinning wheel.

Thanks, Angela and Jane, for bringing your lovely kids over for some fun learning.  Come back and knit with us sometime!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everything I Know About Photography

I take pictures every day.  And I've taken pictures for years and years.  But I have so much yet to learn.  I'm definitely an amateur, but I know a few things gleaned from trial and error, and from studying other people's images that appeal to me. 

I'm going to share a couple of my favorite tips here for several of reasons: it helps me remember, I have a new camera on the way, and I want to take full advantage of Ellie's workshop on Saturday.  (Still time to sign up, BTW.)  And you can use all of these things right away to improve your photos.  I know more about composition and content than the technical stuff, so that's where I'll concentrate.  Relearning all that stuff about F-stops and focal lengths and ISOs and whatnot will just add to my ability to accomplish the content I want.

 One of my favorite JRF shots ever - Moses and Aaron on a frosty morning.  This copy is a bit pixelated because it has been processed up and down too many times.  The original is better.

As in all subjective artistic disciplines, the rules are really just guidelines... like the pirate code.  There are times and places to break the "rules."  Accomplished artists know when to break the rules.  But just as general suggestions, here's a helpful list:

Take outdoor pictures in the morning or evening - your colors will be more richly saturated and won't be washed out by too much sun.  Taking outdoor shots with overcast skies or in light shade eliminates harsh shadows that can detract from your image. 

Shadows aren't bad if they are the subject of your photo.

Focus: if nothing else in your photo is in focus, make sure your subject's eyes are in focus.  That's how we connect to your image.  If your subject is inanimate, make sure it is in focus rather than the foreground or background.  Focus tells us where to look and what's important.

Emma got this great shot of one of our Americauna hens.  The focus is perfect.

Crop!  Get rid of extraneous, distracting elements in your photo by cropping them out, either when you are taking the picture, or afterward, in editing. 

 This photo has a lot going on - what should we focus on?

 Ah, cropping down to a single point of interest is better.  In this case, the close cropping looks out of focus, but you get the idea - keep the composition simple so we don't have to work to figure out what to look at.

Cropping is very simple with modern photo software, as long as you are using...

Digital.  Digital photography has revolutionized the world.  Remember when we had to pay for, and then wait for our film to be developed to see if we got the shot?  Torture!  Now we have instant gratification.  We can see if we got it or not Right Now.  If we need another chance, we can take it.  Take a million pictures.  Since it is so inexpensive and so immediate, there's no harm in taking lots of pictures and choosing your favorites back at home, in front of your computer.  Don't hoard pixels.  You'll thank me. 

I took this picture about five times before I got the composition I liked.  I was so afraid I was going to disturb them and lose the shot.  (Samson is really asleep with his chin on Jethro's back.)  The deep shadows here help frame the subject and eliminate any distractions.

When photographing animals, small kids, or short things, get down on an eye-level with them.  Or even look up at them.  This helps your viewer see them in a different way than usual, and increases the appeal.  In fact, it's a great idea when you're taking your million shots, to change angles and levels often.  You may just find an incredible way of seeing your subject that everyone else misses.

 Judah was moving, so the focus could have been better, but you don't often see a dog from this angle.

Get close.  Modern cameras usually have macro settings as well as decent zoom capabilities.  Bring us close to the action and let us enjoy the detail.   Help us "be there."  We want to see texture and shape, and squeeze everything we can from an image.

Macro shots help us see everyday objects almost as graphic designs.

Use the Rule of Thirds.  Mentally divide your image into nine squares by "drawing" two vertical and two horizontal lines through it.  (My iPhoto software temporarily draws these lines automatically when I'm in the "crop" mode, to help me compose my picture.  Very cool feature.)  Put the most important point of your photo at one of the intersections of these lines.  Unless you are making a strong statement by centering your subject, we find it more appealing if the focal point is not dead-on.  Again, unless it's for a particular effect, keep your horizon lines from bisecting your shot... higher or lower is usually more appealing than dead center.  Sometimes, I'll allow more space around my subject in the photo so that I can make the decision later about what to cut out and what to leave in.

The pink sunset is the subject of this shot.  Everything on the horizon is just there for scale.

Look for strong graphic elements in your shots - circles, triangles, bright colors, lines converging toward a horizon - to add interest.  Frame your subject with stuff in the background - tree branches, furniture, buildings, whatever makes sense.

This is a concrete pond at the botanical garden in San Antonio, around Christmas.  Most of the "weight" of this shot is in the upper third of the frame.  The bright colors and vertical reflection draw your eye away from the center.

Look for scenes that tell a story.  Is something compelling happening in your image?  These are the pictures we remember and enjoy over and over.

I rejected this shot because of the bad color and focus, but it's compelling because of the interaction between Emma and Ruth.

OK - that will get you started.  As I say, I have tons to learn and I can't wait to hear more from Ellie Ivanova on Saturday.  Hopefully, I'll have my new camera in hand and can begin to explore it's technical features.  But I'll always apply these simple guidelines to my photo work.

Good luck with your photos.  Please add any other helpful tips I've neglected to mention.  I still have a lot to learn.