Monday, 22 March 2010

Cake's Progress

I spend my whole life dealing with sugar. I've worked in a labs that deal with sugars for going on five years now and I make cookies and cupcakes out of polymer clay in my spare time. Everything I do revolves around sugar, cake or chocolate. I am Dr. Atkin's nemesis. One day I will make a model of him out of pasta.

To add to all this I'm currently - in my spare time with my other hand - making a wedding cake. I've made a fair few over the years, which is not bad for somebody who is entirely self-taught. This one is for a wedding in a few days time, but it had to be started months ago. It is a long and complicated process. My house is full of sugar flowers that match the bridal bouquet which are drying on wires hanging from everything. There is so much sugar in the air I'm getting hyperglycemic even breathing in and the hallway looks like I've murdered Frosty the snowman.

I feel like I owe you all an apology for being so wrapped up in this project that I have neglected my blog a bit. It had been my intention to create the mother-of-all work in progress walk throughs for the whole project - but I forgot to take photos at the right points and got covered in cake mix for most of it. So I'm just going to waffle for a bit before lapsing back into the normal trend. To be honest, you wouldn't believe me if I posted how I got here anyway as a lot of the tools I use wouldn't be out of place in the hands of a plasterer.

It was sugarcraft that lead me to playing with clay originally, as I found I could replicate flowers in clay before translating them to icing, making exact shapes out of clay to use as supports for drying the final products. I finished sugar flower below about two hours ago and it took three days to get that far. I haven't finished the back yet even though I know noone will see it, I can't leave it raw (you can see the wire wrapped around my hand). I feel like crying when people cut these cakes. I need to get out more.

Icing isn't an easy material to work with but it is where I learnt patience, a Zen-like calm and many words that I can't write on here. Despite the frustration I love sugarcraft. It appeals to my obsessive streak and I can get totally absorbed in it, spending hours and hours on single petals.

So this is the result of nearly five months of work...

Even though it's finished now, it has spawned another little project, which might take me a few weeks to complete, but I'll get there eventually. :)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Safari Macabre

Sometimes I find the greatest things craft things in non craft stores. I bought this whilst abroad a while back - it's great. I really like these toys - they make me giggle so much even now. I loved the idea of being able to paint my own one too.

I could paint it brown and yellow, standing in the savannah eating the juiciest leaves from the tallest of trees like giraffes do. When I press the bottom, it could lie down in the warm ochre dust and sleep as the sun sets over the plains and a herd of wilderbeast roam across the horizon-line. There could even be several monkeys in the background singing the theme from the Lion King.

Or not. You see, I have spent most of the day showing friends round the city I live in. If I see another gargoyle I'm going to scream. I'm in a dark and brooding mood caused by quarterly reports and people with way too much enthusiasm which was not tempered by pointing at decaying architecture, standing in dank chapels, wiping years of dust off Latin inscriptions and trying to pretend I know a little more than nothing about the fineries of seveteenth centry silverwork.

Don't get me wrong, I love history and I like my city, I really do - just not today. I'm shattered, I worked sixteen hours yesterday then came home to a half-finished wedding cake and all I want to do is eat cake and sleep. It's grey, it's windy, it's cold and I am feeling decidedly sorry for myself. My friends are historians, so they need detail about these things and lots of time to admire the subtle differences in the architectural vision whereas I am a scientist so I will settle for "pretty cool" and trying to work out an easy synthesis of kifunensine on the back of an envelope whilst they point at things on the ceiling.

This toy, however, was in my bag the whole time as I wanted to go the the library to find some pictures. As it came along for the ride it is now part of my Gothic world. So in Africa it ain't. Not any more.

The nice thing about having access to on-line databases and a copyright library at work is that you can get hold of anything. Even books on the physiology and anatomy of the giraffe. I really hope they don't keep a permanent log of my library requests, or else I'm going to get fired. If I type "anatomy and giraffe" into Scopus, I get twenty-one hits straight off. There isn't a great deal about the skeleton though, although I've just learnt a great deal about the circulatory system of large African mammals.

A couple of quick coats of plain acrylic paint leave me with a wooden giraffe standing on a black base.

Then some white acrylic paint...

The little furry ears have to go, they are in the way, they are where the eyes should be and now covered with white acrylic.

Next the outline of the skeleton - in pencil first, then in acrylic, then tidied and detailed up with marker pen and shaded with pencil as marker pen and not totally dry acrylic seems to be a bad mix. A quick coat of craft varnish to finish off.

It is not asleep - it has shuffled off it's mortal coil. It is an ex-giraffe. And when I let go, it has risen and is on the search for fava beans and a nice bottle of chanti. Some days I worry about myself a just tiny little bit.


Van Schalkwyk, O.L. et al., A comparison of the bone density and morphology of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) and buffalo (Syncerus caffer) skeletons; Journal of Zoology 2004, 264,307 -315

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Bouncing here and there and everywhere

I caught the travel bug much later in life than most people do, I never back-packed round Asia or inter-railled round Europe as a teenager like a lot of my friends did. I was in my twenties before I first left the country if you don't count the usual school day trip to France. I dropped all my language classes at school as soon as I could so never participated in exchange trips and foreign visits either.

These days, however, I find myself travelling more and more. Partially for fun, partially for work. I made eleven trips abroad last year, mainly in Europe but also as far as parts of South East Asia. This year looks like it's going the same way. I came to the conclusion a while back that despite my best efforts I am never going to be carbon neutral unless I plant a rainforest in the backyard.

It took me twelve hours yesterday to get from Frankfurt back to the UK by rail and bus, including the obligatory wait at Brussels and the UK traffic. I like travelling by ICE train, they are smooth, clean and fast. I could have spent the time working, but I admit I played GTA for four hours straight, gazed out of the window a lot and slept for the rest of the journey. Trains are so much more relaxing than planes and the time for me just evaporates. No stress, no panic, no rush. Just calm.

One of the reasons I like travelling is that I often find wonderful things that I can't get at home easily. My craft boxes are a melee of random objects; fabrics from Korea, felt from Germany, beads from Italy, metal from Spain, ribbons from China and buttons from Hungary are staring at me as I type this. At the moment I'm trying not to bring back things until I've used up some of this stuff, so this time I didn't (for once) bring back any art materials.

A couple of weeks ago an American work colleague commented on how much her family liked Haribo and how difficult it was to get that range in the US. We do see a fair amount of the stuff here, but it's nothing like what you can get hold of from the country that invented the stuff. She didn't believe me, so I took some photos and nearly got asked to leave a German supermarket.

I love Haribo. I know it's full of sugar, I know what it's made from and yet I'll still eat it until I feel ill. I love the colours, the sheer variety and the shapes. It does what no other confection really does for me - it makes me feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

I managed to find over twenty different sorts in one supermarket alone. Some of it is now destined for the US, but I am still left with quite a lot of it; which I will take to work for our morning coffee time. I can't really just dump kilos of sweets in the kitchen though, but maybe I can build something.

The last time I made a "sweet cake" it was a smallish effort for a birthday of a vegan friend who doesn't like chocolate. Getting hold of vegan sweets wasn't a particularly easy task at the time, so the end result wasn't as impressive as I would have liked it to be. I used curling ribbon to hold my last effort together, but this time I want it be made entirely from jelly sweets. This might cause some difficulties given the wierd shapes you get in bag of this stuff and the fact it's really really squishy. So some structural compenents first - Haribo marshmallows tied up in groups of three with strawberry laces.

I've stuffed the inside with some twisty sugar rolls because they are heavy and rigid and are helping to hold my marshmallow towers in place.

Foam safari animals next...

More spirals, then some more rigid berries. I actually don't like these berries, but they are nice and solid, so help with the weighting. I've added some liqcorice between the marshmallows for a bit of colour.

Sugar mice and easter bunnies for this layer...

Then finished off with sweet pasta, more liqcorice and easter shapes.

Hmm... It doesn't quite look like the picture in my head, but it will do for the time being. Maybe I shouldn't be such a purist and break out the wooden skewers for supports next time. Watch this space...