I, a muse, amuse

I often play with words, such as in my collection FCQ, but I also sometimes toy with other materials because I enjoy it a lot and because it’s very relaxing. By the way, I used my creativity equally well in my scientific approach. I saw the connections other overlooked, for example, and that was partly because I looked in other areas when multidisciplinarity was still so not done in science.

I want to show you a few of those projects.

Scrolling down, first you’ll see photos of a mirror that all by itself transformed itself under my hands, into the circle of life.

The four smaller photos depict the first stages of the transformation.

I had found that very plain oak mirror discarded on the streets. It used to be attached to a dressing table, I think. I applied materials that I already had.

First, I glued raffia to the sides, painted that and the frame fern green, intending to go for a rustic look. To the back, I glued a floral fabric that contains matching green colours.

I glued colourful paper flowers to the front, onto the glass, including places where the mirror had degraded slightly. They were mainly yellow, red, and orange.

Then something odd happened.

I started adding silver, white and mother of pearl, obscuring the green paint. I glued two tiny painted canvases onto the glass. Each contained a flower and each was covered in gold paint.

I had no choice but to call the whole thing “the circle/cycle of life” after that. The mirror is really attractive now. I enjoy seeing it.


I also created funky objects from chunks of chert that I picked up along the shore a few years ago. Most are small decorative pieces and some have hidden meanings. By covering part of the surface with paint, I accentuate the rock material. (Remember that I am also a geologist who began collecting rocks and minerals as a young teenager.)

Below are some crappy photos of one of my two larger chert pieces.

It has mother-of-pearl paint, and a bit of gold too, in addition to the other colours, and it’s been varnished a few times. I use it as a lifting weight, along with a turquoise one with gold and white.

Below are a few equally crappy photos of the objects Embryology by Magdalena Abakamowicz reminded me of when I saw it. (I used a cheesecloth-like fabric, black paint, gold paint, varnish).

Wrapping these pieces of chert into the cheesecloth turned them into almost animal objects.

One of them is like a bandaged golden rabbit’s foot. I had to bandage these particular pieces of rock, for some reason.

Doing things like these is very good for me. It helps keep my shoulders from freezing and relaxes my sometimes slightly achy wrists too.

Finally, I’ll show you four videos I created in 2010, mixing the movement of one of my hands and various sounds, including a few not particularly pretty notes on an alto sax, as an ode to poverty.

I’d never done anything like this before, but I enjoyed it and that was all that mattered to me. I don’t care if such things look meaningless and silly to someone else. Of course they are. And then again, they aren’t. (Warning: These videos may really annoy some of you.)

The “Chinese” soundtrack is not by me. The Billie Holliday tune that I am humming in two tracks remains one of my favorites. (It’s incredibly flexible, too.) Apparently, she wrote this one herself, together with pianist Mal Waldron.

Here is some surprising evidence of the amazing flexibility of that simple little tune…

I was reminded of these videos (actually, first of a few of my chert pieces) during a recent visit to Tate Modern (notably by Embryology by Magdalena Abakamowicz, a work that I really like because it has so many dimensions). So I decided to dig them up from the internet’s attic.

I played the violin as a very young child, and knew how to tune one and play various songs, but something happened that interfered with my violin-playing and my connection with music in general, which I regained decades later. I’ve since sung in choirs, for example also on large stages with Bach’s Matthäus Passion, and entertained myself with a piano and a small organ, for which I had and purchased music (in addition to simpler things like a tambourine). That was in my teen years.

I went to many many many performances in my early twenties, mostly piano, but also for example shakuhachi and orchestras (the later mostly at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam) and I used to listen to English/Irish folk and jazz on the radio.

I also had a keyboard and a recorder, when I was in my twenties. I couldn’t figure out the recorder, and my neighbours did not like it either, but I had the keyboard for a long time and I could use my headphones so that I was not bothering anyone with my playing. In the past ten years or so, I have had three alto saxophones (two subsequently that played and one that didn’t) and two violins, and an electronic saxophone mute. These days, I fiddle on a bunch of tin whistles, though I also still have a recorder. Playing a saxophone made me understand recorders and other flutes and whistles much better, which was a wonderful discovery. I do want to get a saxophone again in the future.

Musical talent runs in the family, on my mother’s side.

Current projects? Well, I have what is probably an old shaving mirror, which I collected together with an old two-part dictionary that I was interested in, via Freecycle. It is quite charming and I had intended to get some oil or wax to pretty it up a bit. In places, whatever was covering it before (varnish, I think) had worn off and there were some water stains.

It seemed to me that wax or oil would do this little mirror most justice, and I hadn’t gotten around to that yet, when a year or so later, someone else offered an old remnant of furniture polish based on three different waxes (bees, carnauba and montan) on Freegle. So I collected that and it seems to be working out fine. Part of it still needs at least one extra coat of wax. Nothing artsy about it. Simply nice.

I have a slightly larger more elegant similar mirror, in white-painted wood. I may cover that one with mother-of-pearl acrylic paint one day and then varnish it, but it is already quite nice as is. It could be a nice idea to glue some dark orange/tomato red flowers onto that one, come to think of it.

I also still have two large and very sturdy wooden patio chairs that I want to fix up (and then may have to sell or put on freecycle). They were in a pile of garbage and very dirty when I found them. They currently have remnants of pale blue chalk paint on them. I am not sure yet whether I simply want to paint them or give them a distressed look, let alone in which colour(s). Ideally, I should also make cushions for them. I did look at fabrics after I found them, but to go with the original paint colour.

As I’d foolishly earlier thrown out a huge old cushion of which the stuffing would have been good, I asked for and received a bunch of pillows/cushions via freecycle. So I won’t need to purchase foam as basis for the new cushions.

So now I have asked for some leftover fabric on freecycle. I think that some old flowery curtains may do very well. Once I have the fabric, I can pick the paint colour. If the fabric happens to go well with emerald green chalky finish rust-oleum furniture paint, then that would be smashing, and fortunately, that paint colour combines well with many other colours.

(Update: I have meanwhile received some wonderful curtains as well, and they go perfectly with a colour of paint that I had already selected as my other option, Belgrave blue.)

I am trying to recycle and upcycle as much as possible. We humans throw out – waste – so much stuff that is still very usable. We all got into the habit of buying lots of stuff new, but that often is not necessary at all. It is also often much more fun, actually.

I’ve spruced up a few smaller items with chalk paint, too, and I fixed a small broken table that I found discarded, then covered it with acrylic paint and varnish. It is next to my large cane lazy chair now. I found that chair apparently discarded too, so I left a note with my phone number, asking if I could have it. Yes. There were a few more, but the local rubbish collection service removed the rest very shortly after I’d retrieved my chair.

I’ve also made a camera tripod out of a discarded plastic Christmas tree, a cardboard tube, a piece of string and a paper clip. Etc etc etc!

Below is a photo of the top of one of the tables you can see in the above photos, with a few of the objects on it. The bottles are empty, but quite decorative. The two objects are two of my smaller painted rocks. The one on the left is varnished and I covered part of it with gold paint (which does not show well in the photo because I took it in bad light). For parts of the one of the right, I used a fern-coloured acrylic paint that is quite thin and watery. I didn’t varnish that one.