Still Not a Masterpiece

Strictly speaking, I can never make a masterpiece, because I do not know about any knifemaker’s guild or similar organization around here that could grant me one. And even if I knew, I could not be bothered with going through the hassle accompanied by obtaining one. There was a knifemaking vocational school in CZ, but a quick Google search failed to confirm whether it is still functional. When I found out about its existence, I already had my Master’s degree in Biology and Chemistry and it was not feasible to go back to vocational school at that stage of my life.

Nevermind. I just finished two knives and I do think I did a good job, although they both took an absolutely unholy amount of time to finish. The blades were first seen in the first Overabladeance post. Both blades are highly polished, which makes them a PITA to photograph. I am not entirely convinced my choice of background for these photos was correct but I am reluctant to go through all the hours of photographing it again with another color.

Lotsa of pictures under the fold. [Read more…]

Creativity AIn’t the issue

I tried to use generative AI in my last designs, both for the auroch and for the wild boar. First I tried the AI that is supplied with the latest version of Photoshop. Since I am paying for that, I might as well use it. Then I tried to use Stable Diffusion because it is free. And after that, there is no way in hell I will pay for Midjourney, even if I could afford it.

I won’t post the pictures I got here, the internet does not need more AI-generated crap to pollute it. Suffice it to say, that whilst some results looked at least somewhat interesting, most were total crap and none were useable for my purposes. Right from the outset, I found out that the AI does not actually contribute anything to my work at all.

I am one of those people who has some trouble visualizing things in their mind. Especially human faces. I would be completely incapable of drawing the face of even the most beloved person in my life. That might sound odd for someone who doodled all the time and who used to be sufficiently good at drawing to get into art school where part of the entrance examination was drawing a Goethe bust, but that is the way it is. I generally need some kind of template to get started. However, as I found out with the AI, my inability to form a clear visual picture in my mind does not mean that I start without a clue as to how the result shall look. And that is where I clashed with the AI and lost.

I got plenty of two-headed or six-legged animals, plenty of zebu or bison-like animals instead of aurochs, and a lot of domesticated pig lookalikes instead of wild boars. The pose of the animal was never right, no matter what prompts I used. Even after I wrote “auroch running from left to right” I got a picture of what looked like a pair of six-legged water buffaloes running from right to left. At one time the Photoshop AI even deleted one of three generated pictures because the prompt “auroch bull charging” somehow triggered its anti-porn filter or something.

After a few days of faffing around, I found out that my old process – which I described in my previous post – is actually the better way to go. Because despite my poor visualization skills, I still have a pretty good idea about what I want to achieve and what the end result should look like. The AI did not help with that in any way. I only wanted it to generate the picture to get started, and I haven’t got even that. I had zero control over what came out of it. It was a game of chance and I never enjoyed those.

No doubt that with a lot of work and a supply of carefully selected images to train the AI myself, I might get some useable results, but I also got those with a simple Google photo search and making a biro sketch in a few minutes. And once I had the sketch, once I got started, I built on that.

I do not consider generative AI to be completely useless but if it is creative, to me it was a hindrance, not a plus. Sure, I used it to generate dozens of somewhat unique pictures, but despite me being the one giving the prompts, I was in no meaningful way the one who actually created the result.

The results were pictorial ends to a game of Chinese whispers. Sometimes amusing, sometimes interesting, but always widely off the mark.

Preparing for Winter

Busy, busy, busy. I am tired and there’s still more work to be done than I can manage. Currently, the theme of the day is preparing the garden for winter.

You may remember that this year I have been experimenting with growing potatoes under grass clippings, without tilling the ground or preparing it in any other way. And given that I have planted only about 1 kg of pea-sized potatoes, it was a huge success, I harvested about 40 kg of reasonably large potatoes, although the blasted voles did again do some damage. Here is a picture of a small sample.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Because of this, I have decided to repeat the experiment on a larger scale, on our proper vegetable bed, about 40 square meters. It was several working day’s worth of work to gather all the old and recent grass clippings from piles around the garden and spread them all over.

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It would be better to dry the clippings first, but alas that was no longer possible for the last mowing of the grass since the weather is now cold and wet and the days are too short for the sun to do much even when it shines. So about half is covered in dry clippings and half in fresh ones. I do hope it won’t cause problems, it should have enough time over the winter to settle. I hope. In the spring I will probably add a few bags of woodchips and shredded reeds from the sewage cleaning facility.

All in all this year was a mixed bag, gardening-wise. We had very few tomatoes and patypans. The weather at the beginning of the summer was way too hot and the plants, although they are warmth-loving, had stunted growth despite being watered enough. And when the weather subsequently cooled in July, it was again way too cold for these. In short – most of the summer the temperatures were either above or below the tomatoes’ metabolic optimum.

The beans that grew this year on the big vegetable bed as well as behind the house were a moderate success. The voles destroyed some plants early on but the rest grew vigorously and I harvested nearly 6 kg of beans and about twice as much of green bean pods that my mother canned in vinegar for later use. It is less than we could have under better conditions, but enough for our needs.

My only apple tree fell victim to water voles and continues to slowly die. I expect that it won’t wake up next spring. But I got over 30 kg of strawberries, over 10 kg of pears, and several kg of raspberries. Most of those were dried for winter too, some were made into marmalade. The plums and figs harvest was small, only a few kg, but it was enough for me to sit one whole day and make all-natural, sugar-free plum butter and to dry a few jars of figs. Plum butter is the best filler for pies, IMO, and it too should be enough for a few years. And lastly, we got again enough walnuts to give them away. The cellar reserved for preserved food and vegetables is full.

And I also had to replace the bird feeder, since it was starting to slowly fall apart. I have made a completely new one, from a few wood offcuts sorted out of my firewood. I hope it will last at least as long as the previous one. To help it last longer, I have charred all surfaces with a propane torch and I soaked it with old boiled linseed oil. That should make it somewhat resistant to humidity and fungi.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Basically, it is the same design as the previous one, only the central column is not round and made from plastic tubing but square and made from wood. And the roof is a bit higher so the birds have slightly more space to sit and still have a good view of their surroundings. I did not include any perches so far, maybe I will do that later.

I have also made an additional feeder, a kind of gibbet for hanging walnuts, suet dumplings, and various other things.

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The weather is still warm and I did not see very many birds on the feeder yet. But the food keeps disappearing so they are definitively coming. I hope to get some pretty bird pictures again this winter. I did not use my camera for way too long this year.

The last step in winter preparations is to move indoors all plants and flowers that cannot stay in the greenhouses and put the bonsai below the benches to protect them against frosty winds. And to re-plant in the pollard all walnuts, hazels, and oaks that sprout all around the garden from nuts hidden by jays. And several other things. Busy, busy, busy…


There Should be Dryads Here

It is raining for over a week so I went to the forest last week to check whether the mushroom season has started. It has not, but it keeps raining still so I will check once a week from now on, and I hope I will manage to get some boletes at some point. We ate already all that I picked a few years ago so we need to re-fill the pantry.

I did not take the camera with me, and I did not encounter many things worth taking pictures of anyway. But I did take a picture of my favorite beech tree with my phone.

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It is not particularly huge, but it is not small either. It managed to keep the ground around itself clear of undergrowth for decades and I always stop by when going to that part of the forest. It has beautiful roots and all in all, is full of character. One can imagine this to be one of those trees that dryads inhabit and protect.

Creative Fun: Painting Ceramics

This is the little one’s fault (yeah, the little one. Almost as tall as me). She saw something like this on the net and asked if there was a place near where you can paint your own ceramics. I found one and invited the kids for Easter. While I dislike making huge presents for Easter, you can basically always get me to spend money on making memories. If there’s a place like that near you and you have kids ages 5 to 99 who enjoy creative stuff, I can only recommend. The nice thing is that since it’s professionally fired in a kiln, you get lasting designs, not like with other paint on techniques.

So, here’s what we did:

Various ceramic items, see individual desription with the other pics.

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A small jug with dotted flowers.

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A green, white and brown tile with a kitty face

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A small ceramic owl figure

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The little one’s haul: lots of dots there. And a kitty, because she loves cats.

A rectangular tray with a sakura tree

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#1 worked painstakingly on her Sakura blossom tree. The picture doesn’t do it justice, since it doesn’t show the many layers.

Well, and what did I do?

Big mug in green and blue with the character Totoro

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View into the mug: a studio Ghibli dustbunny

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My new favourite mug. I love, love, love Totoro. It’s such a wonderful movie and I identify with Totoro: We’re both fat, grey haired and love naps, children and gardening.

I also did a plate which turned out completely different than planned.

A plate in deep blues and greens with a white geometric whale pattern

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The place offers you a lot of materials, like stencils, and also an introduction: you can always paint dark on light colours, but not vice versa. When fired in the kiln, they turn transparent and the dark colour underneath comes through. What I wanted to do was to use a mandala stencil to add a geometric pattern in black and then paint the spaces in between with vibrant colours. Buuuuut, well, with the curve of the plate and the clumsiness of the artist the black colour ran and smudged. If you look closely above the whale, you can see it shine through. I needed to save it and painted layers upon layers, smudging the black, drawing it out, creating a deep sea and the scratching out the whale with the help of another stencil. It turned out nice and I’ll try to create the other plate another time.

Some Knives Again – Part 3

This is the second three-piece set from the second overabladeance that I have finished. It is what you might call “vegan” set, because there are no animal parts involved in this one, it is made purely from plant material – black locust and coconut shell.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It is more or less a direct, slightly simplified, follow-up of the experimental knife set. This time the surfaces are not oiled but sealed with epoxy and buffed, just like with the jatoba&bone set from yesterday.

I hope to be able to put all three sets on the shoppe tomorrow. More pictures are, again, on Instagram.

Some Knives Again – Part 2

In the second overabladeance were three tree-knives sets, two of which are finished now.

The first one is from jatoba and cow bone.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

As is usual, the cow bone has had some pores that accrued the reddish dust from the jatoba during work despite my best efforts to seal the surface of the bone with epoxy before sanding and polishing the handles. At least that way it is clear that it is a real bone and not some synthetic substitute, I guess? The number etching on the chef knife is a bit smudged. I still do not know why it behaves wonky from time to time – on one and the same piece of steel it can happen that I etch one part crisply without problems and a few cm besides that it suddenly does not work properly.

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Fitting the rounded bone pieces to the extremely hard jatoba wood was not exactly easy but I managed a reasonably good fit in all nine instances. On this set, I have infused the surfaces with resin, smoothed them with 600-grit paper, and then coated them with resin again. Only after that did I buff it. Thus the whole set has extremely hard surfaces and it is a bit shiny.

I do know that this whole set is suitable for like 99% of all imaginable kitchen works because it is based on an experimental knife set I wrote about previously which has been very thoroughly tested by now. I have used it to cut both veggies and meat, gut fish, and de-bone chicken and there was a knife in this set for all the tasks that I could think of. This set is slightly modified – the blades are pointer and they do not have round-heeled ricasso. I like rounded tips and round-heeled ricasso but I did not convince many people about the advantages of round tips on knives and blades without ricasso are easier to make.

Again, the set will be for sale in the shoppe sometime towards the end of the week and there are more pictures on Instagram.

Some Knives Again – Part 1

I finally got time to work on knives again and finished some of the second overabladeance blades and two of the first one.

First a set made from an apple branch fork. I have left some of the woodborer’s lacework visible, most of which was just below the bark. Deeper holes and cracks were filled with brown-dyed epoxy.

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The stand and the handles are made from one piece of wood and the grain on the handles is a continuation (plus-minus a few mm) of the grain in the bloc. I added some solder weight to the bottom of the bloc so it is heavier and more stable because I did not want o disturb the shape by adding legs. I aimed for a more flowing and organic look and two straight metal legs would distract from that. I also have tacked on a few anti-friction pads.

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It was not easy to make the slits for the blades so they are a bit rough around the edges but that is OK and in line with the design. When I was deciding how to close the back of the slits, the nearly invisible seamless gluing of flat boards that I do for straight bloc designs was not an option so instead of trying to hide it, I opted for a bold contrast. I glued in a black-locust strip and I have left enough space for a dark-brown epoxy strip around the edges too.

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The bigger knife has some chatoyancy in the handle, something that I did not expect. But I did not make the wood too shiny – I only sealed it with one epoxy dip and I did not seal it for a second time like I do for shinier surfaces – I have just buffed and waxed the set. Thus all the wood has a somewhat satin look to it and the handles are nicely grippy.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The bigger blade has a minor etching defect near the handle that I thought would be hidden under the scale but It is not, unfortunately, because I made a slight mistake in the glue-up. Also, the blade is slightly thicker and heavier than is typical for this type of my knives, it has a somewhat “choppy” feel to it. All in all, it is a mixed bag as usual, I am not proud of the work I did, but I do not hate it either.

Sometime during this week, the set will be available in the shoppe. There also are slightly more pictures on Instagram.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 10 – Money Tree

Previous post.

You have seen my money tree Crassula ovata before. It is probably my oldest bonsai tree, now somewhere near 60 years old and it is still healthy and it still grows strong. This is how it looked this spring before pruning.

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Money tree is probably the best tree for anyone who wants to begin growing bonsai or having just a few of them without spending a lot of time with care. It is extremely easy to propagate – virtually any cutting of any size, including a single leaf, can take root and grow into a new plant. It grows reasonably fast, but not extremely fast – a few cm to a dm a year – and it makes nice, thick trunks in just a few years. It is not very flexible regarding shapes and it cannot be formed by the use of a wire but it can be formed by simple pruning into interesting informal shapes nevertheless.

Money trees are extremely low-maintenance. They survive severe neglect, not being watered for weeks on end. They can survive both in direct sun and in half-shade (although shade makes them spindly and unseemly). Aphids and other common pests leave them alone, and birds and rodents too. They are not choosy about substrate either and they need not be re-planted for years without suffering. Probably the only thing that can reliably kill money trees is a combination of wet and cold – but they can survive a dry cold of around 10°C without a problem.

Here is my tree after pruning.

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The tree was cut back a lot and thus it looks a bit unseemly right now but that will be rectified in a month or so. When cutting money trees the cuts do not need to be treated in any way – another plus – because the cut piece will dry and fall off at the closest pair of leaves/buds on its own, leaving a clean and closed surface behind it.

And here is a bucket of pruned offcuts.

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Each of the offcuts could be grown into a new tree if I desired to do so. Indeed I have in the past used some of these off-cuts to grow new plants and one of them I gave to one of my friends. That is how I learned its only weakness – his mother was watering the plant too zealously when he was away and it succumbed to root rot. But I have kept some of the pieces that I have cut off in the past and I composed them into a nice little bonsai forest, about 10 years old now.

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This demonstrates another specific need for money trees- deeper pots. They do not make strong structural roots like true trees so they need a bit of depth to anchor them properly.

The best routine for money trees: in the summer put outdoors in full sun, out of the wind and rain, and water regularly when the weather is warm. Do not water when the weather is cold and rainy. When temperatures drop to ~10°C at night, move indoors, into a light but cool-ish place, and do not water at all or at the most once-twice a month a bit of splash. In the spring cut back strongly to promote new growth. If kept indoors all year round, the best would be a south-facing window and the plant needs to be turned twice a week at about 90° to prevent it from bending towards the window. Use substrate for succulents and deeper pots with big enough drainage holes. With just a bit of care, you can have a plant that will look well for decades and won’t die on you if you need to go on a business trip and leave it alone for a few days.

Bonsai Tree – Persimmon Still Mysterious

Previous post.

This year the tree took its time to start growing – it only started a few days ago, at the beginning of May. I was already worrying again since this is the only specimen that I have and if it dies, it is unlikely I would ever be able to replace it – it took about ten years to find one seed, dammit. But it started to grow, finally. and it looks promising.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Last year it grew three branches on the main stem in the end. I cut them all down this year and they all are sprouting 2-3 buds so it is branching out, which is good.

We shall see what form the tree chooses. Preliminarily it appears to be suitable for formal broom style. I am reluctant to use wire on this wood at all, it grows relatively fast in thickness and length so there is a great risk of ingrowth, plus it is a very hard and strong wood so it would probably be prone to breaking when stressed incorrectly. And broom style often does not require the use of wire, just judicious pruning. And spreading the soft twigs apart early in the spring, which can be done by simply inserting a piece of cardboard between them as a temporary spacer. Which I did last year and I probably will have to do this year again since the tree still has a very strong tendency to grow straight upwards. That is normal for seedlings and it should slow down as it matures.

I have also worked on my other bonsai, repotting them. When they are picture-worthy again, I hope to write a few more articles about species suitable for beginners. Right now, I am very tired. A bit more than usual because in addition to re-planting the trees, I have also built a shade over them. It was necessary because my trees suffered greatly these last few years when it rained very sparsely and the summer heat was abnormally intense. I had to, on occasion, put some trees manually into the shade near the house, so I have decided this year to bring shade to all of them right from the start. I hope it will also mean I will need less water for the trees during the summer.

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I have re-purposed welded U-poles for a clothesline that we used to have in our garden before we got an electric clothes dryer. I put the poles over the bonsai bench and instead of clotheslines, I spanned between them thick 4 mm wires. And instead of hanging up clothes, I spanned a shading net between those wires, using our old clothespins. Should the clothespins not hold up to windy weather, I will sew the net to the wires with a rope. Although I do hope the clothespins will suffice because I will need to take the nets off again before winter.

Project Phoenix – Part 6 – Finished

I worked a bit in the garden, I got over 1 cubic meter of wood from the coppice already stacked away in bags. That’s about 10% of my yearly firewood usage so it is a good haul this year – there will be at least as many bags of wood chips from the smaller twigs etc, totalling somewhere around 20%. Given the current prices of firewood, that’s a significant cost saving.

But winter does not want to give up so quickly this year and after my injured hand had healed, a short spell of frosty weather hit us again. I have used that time to be a useless couch lump and also to finish the bobbin lace phoenix.

Here it is finished still on the lace pillow.

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After this, it took me about one hour to take all the pins out and approximately another hour to frame it. Completely finished picture is below the fold.

[Read more…]

Plush of the Month: Meet Ferdinand and Sweetie

We haven’t had a plush in a while now, for a couple of reasons. For one, the patraeon patterns I was getting were either not quite my style, or so elaborate that I wasn’t feeling up to them. Not for lack of skill, but for lack of patience and time. I need a bit of instant gratification from my hobbies, so spending weeks on a project didn’t appeal to me. Also, with my back fucking up, sitting was painful and I needed to conserve my sitting down time. But my back got better (damn, you , exercise) and the little one came to me with a project. She’s in the school cheerleading team. Now I must clarify for my American readers: we do not have a school football team. While there are American Football clubs here and they do have cheerleading teams, it’s also purely done as the amazing sport that it is (and deserves recognition), so one of the teachers who loves cheerleading and is involved with a sports club cheerleading team is also training the school team. Their school team is the Flying Bulls (because the teacher’s team has a similar name) and she wanted to make a mascot. We went pattern shopping and soon created Ferdinand (named after this good fellow). Of course the wings were not included, so I had to make up my own pattern for them, but he turned out really cute:

Black plush bull with white and green wings sitting on a table

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Black plush bull with white and green wings full frontal view

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Black plush bull, face close up

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Isn’t he handsome? The eyes are made from epoxy and UV resin and secured with screws. The wings get their stability from pipe cleaners. While Ferdinand was a big hit with the cheerleading team, saying goodbye was hard and I needed something to comfort me. Well, why not make another plush? I have to say that Ferdinand is a completely different style from the last plushies I made and I quite liked it. Instead of the machine embroidery, these designs live from old fashioned eyes and designs. The creator has a couple of plushes in that style and one of them is my favourite animal, a hippo, so I had to go for it. Please meet Sweetie:

Grey hippo plush sitting on a couch, full vieew

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Grey hippo, torso and arms

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Grey hippo, view from above

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Yes, she’s incredibly adorable. It’s amazing how much of that look comes from adding the eyelids. Depending on how you place them, you get dreamy, sad or angry. She’s moved in with us and has become a full member of the hippo crew. I hope she can brighten your day a little as well.