I love this still life painting by Taisia Afonina! It has a real old-world charm about it, when a tea party was a normal everyday occurrence. I can feel the breeze fluttering through the window, ruffling the soft sheers, causing the light to glint off the silver tea service. I can smell the fresh flowers in the glass, as if they were just picked by the roadside. I love the way the the cobalt blue cups rimmed in gold give this an air of formality, even though they are more haphazardly arranged, as if someone was just setting up the table.
But what attracted me most was the profusion of pussy willows in the tall vase.
I love pussy willows. I have a similar tall vase of them in my house all year round. I love their fuzzy little buds and the straight, dark branches. It brings to mind when I was a child and I would walk 10 blocks to my elementary school. Along the way I would find bushes of these tiny treasures in very early spring and swipe a few branches to carry to my teacher wrapped in water soaked paper towels. So pussy willows always remind me that spring is coming!
Here is what I learned about my favorite furry buds:
Most of what people see and think of as pussy willows are, in fact, the male flowering parts, or male catkins. The female catkins tend to develop and open a little later than the males, but they can form attractive pussy willows, too. And what, to us, is the most attractive stage in the pussy willow is actually very early on in the emergence of the catkin. The soft, silvery hairs that we see are the “fur coat
” that helps to keep the developing reproductive parts warm. Remember, pussy willows emerge in early spring when it’s still quite cold. But when the sun shines, the temperature of the center of the catkin can rise above air temperatures by trapping the heat from the sun with it’s insulating hairs. This additional warming aids in the development of the pollen within the anthers and of the ovules within the carpels. The willow flowers are fully “open
” when the yellow pollen-bearing anthers are protruding and the stigmas are visible.
|OLD pussy willow stick pendant, circa 2013
A few years ago I tested out carving on scratch foam and came up with a pussy willow pendant (it was featured in Stringing, Fall 2013). As you can see, from the stamp I carved on the foam that resulted in an “inny” for the image, something I wasn’t quite pleased with, although I loved the colors and the soft pearl catkins. But after awhile it was impossible to get a good impression with the foam so I had to discontinue making them.
I knew that I wanted to revisit that image, but with a twist… I was following a tutorial on how to make a sort of faux ceramic look with polymer clay using inclusions in the clay, chalk pastels and a crackle medium. It called for making your own mold of sorts, so I carved a piece of scrap clay and baked it. That way I would be able to replicate this look. Impressing the mold onto the clay in the bezels resulted in the “outy” look that I was hoping for. I colored the clay with the chalks and used a little bit of Lumiere pearl paint to make those catkins glow.
|NEW pussy willow pendant, circa 2016
Then I baked the clay in my favorite long rectangle bezels, as they are long and lean in that tall crystal vase.
After they were done baking, I brushed a layer of crackle medium onto them. As the medium dries it makes all these great fissures. But you don’t really see them. So I added a little blend of some acrylic paint over the top to settle in those cracks, wiping off the excess. That was exactly the look I was going for!
|before and after
I am quite pleased with the way they turned out and so happy to have my own hand-carved mold so I can continue to make them! I call this Sign of Spring
as they remind me that the warmer days are coming and the return of the flowers is not far behind. These were made for my Simple Truths Sampler Club members, but I would love to make a limited edition one for you before spring turns into summer and they will disappear again!
I also made one for two of my fellow ABS editors, Mary Harding and Michelle McCarthy. Check back on March 22nd for a reveal of how we used each other’s components inspired by this month’s painting inspiration!
Happy spring to you!