Photoshop: simple photo manipulation

I love Photoshop, but I would never use it to manipulate photos of people, unless in artistic ways, or if the person had a really bad pimple!

It doesn’t mean I never tried to manipulate photos of myself or family members (poor things) in Photoshop. Few attempts resulting into “alien like features”, very much like those we are bombarded by the media all the time, were enough to convince me that blemishes on people’s faces should be left alone (except for that pimple I mentioned before) and unless one is creating a piece of art, Photoshoppe (the correct Italian pronunciation) should be used for inanimate objects only.  Photoshop is great for “cleaning” an image and isolating the subject. You can do that by cropping and eliminating distracting elements (crap that the picture can do without), trying to reach a visual  balance, because eyes appreciate balance, also our whole being could use it as well, in different terms. I going to show a simple example in this post, using a photo I took at the market yesterday morning.

before PhotoshopToday I was next to Shafiek’s stall, and after asking him if he would like to be featured in my blog, I started to take some pictures.  I will talk about his stall later on. For the pictures I used my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3 mini, which might be called mini, but surely has a mighty camera! The sun was coming and going (mostly going) and luckily I took the picture at the right time, in photographic terms, when the sun was behind a cloud and there was even light on the subject, while in “marketeers terms” it was a very annoying time, cold and breezy. But at least the picture is nice.
There are lots of things that can be done to this picture: removing the distracting background (the crap), trimming the bottom hedge and add some hearings to the display (balance). They are obviously very popular and that’s why there are good few missing! Having said that, the image is opened Photoshop and the process starts.
Unfortunately I decided to talk about it too late, and did all the alterations without taking any print screens to document a proper step by step process. But there are lots of good tutorial on Youtube for that! In theory is simply a matter of observing the image and selecting the parts that we don’t want, removing them, adding layers and “blah blah blah”. (Just quoting one of my ex tutors). Also a bit of coping and pasting, stamping and rubbing off and cropping, all simple stuff. The final result is more pleasing to the eyes and the subject of the picture is well presented. I have adjusted the colour using “levels” and blurred the background  a little after removing the unwanted bits.

If you would like to play a little “spot the differences”, these are the two images, before and after Photoshop.before and after PhotoshopThese beautiful bags are sold by Shafiek and you can find his stall in Skibbereen Farmers’ Market most Saturdays. These bags are leather and entirely handmade. Shafiek also have a selection of pretty silver hearings. Bags come in different styles and sizes and price ranges from €20 to €60. The laptop bag in the picture above is really sturdy and can fit a laptop and some folders, suitable for professionals and student alike.20150912_135147 If you wish to buy one of his beautiful bags or lovely hearings, you can visit his stall in Skibbereen Market on Sat between 9 am and 2 pm or you can contact me and I will send you Shafik’s e-mail.

To my surprise nothing unusual has happened this Saturday, all my cats were acting normal,click here if you missed my post from few weeks ago. So I’m kind of worried: is this a trend? Everything is normal…. Oh dear I don’t know if I can cope!

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Clutter or craft? The ultimate question

What is the difference between a piece of craft and piece of clutter? Since beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, we can easily say that  the two are exactly the same thing. In fact only the viewer’s eyes – and brains – will decide to what category the object belongs.

Few weeks ago, I was happily attending the market, blushing and inflating my ego, thanks to the lovely comments from enthusiastic buyers and people walking near my stall, when one kind looking lady approaches the stall, smiling and pointing to a particular stone. I encourage the lady to have a closer look, so she immediately lifts the stone and begins to admire the painting, mentioning the likeness with a cat that she happened to own a long time ago. She is now stroking the surface of the stone in affectionate matter, flooding me with compliments, blowing my ego to the size of a hot air balloon. I instinctively reach for a piece of wrapping paper, foreseeing the purchase of the stone, when the lady, with a very sudden movement, places the stone back on the table and makes a very unexpected remark: ‘ I already have so much clutter around the house’. She then, very casually, walks away towards another stall. Immediately I hear an hissing sound,  my ego balloon quickly deflating, while my facial expression changes from hopeful smile into pure dismay.


It was in this particular moment that I realized an incredible truth (a craft Epiphany) and decided that one day I will illustrate my answer to the following question: “craft or clutter?”. Today is that day and  in order to better explain my answer, I will analyse the parties involved in the question.

craft or clutter

The craft maker/artist. 

From my point a view, painting is a passion and a way to give my imagination the opportunity to work its way out of my being, giving great relief and providing a personal sense of achievement.craft or clutter It is also a very relaxing and therapeutic activity.

Because my house can only hold so many stones, bare and painted, here comes the selling part, where I “get rid of” the product of my passion, earning a a bit of money in the process, so I can buy paints and brushes – also bread from The Baking Emporium, which will be featured later on.

The buyer.

Lets say you are the buyer (the giver) and a friend of yours is the receiver (having a little recollection of book keeping here!). You see something you like, or something that you think your friend will like and decide to buy it. You wrap the present, providing a card where you congratulate the receiver for whatever the occasion, birthday, new house, new baby, new dog and so on. At this stage you imagine that this object, which in your eyes is a marvelous gift, will be cherished and appreciated for the time being. Kept on display and periodically dusted and admired, not only by the receiver but also by their family and friends. The word ‘clutter’ doesn’t even cross your mind. How could you call clutter such a beautiful piece of craftsmanship?Impossible.

The receiver.

Your friend holds your present, and with great expectations starts unwrapping it. Although from the packaging some clues of the content are already revealed: rounded, heavy and hard as rock. The receiver’s instinct suggests ‘it’s a rock!’, but the receiver’s expecting mind insists that it can’t be a rock. Come on, who would give a rock as a present ?! It must be something else, maybe a watch in very heavy and hard case, or some sort of jewellery, presented in the same very heavy hard case. So the receiver grins and eagerly rips the paper, revealing a rock (‘I told you!!’ the receiver’s instinct screams in triumph). The receiver, who at this stage has a frozen grin, tries to find the right words to hide the sudden surge of disappointment, and says ‘thank youuuuu, this is very nnnnice!’ still grinning.

The fourth party.

The stone lies on the top shelf of the local charity shop. The receiver perceives the rock as a piece of clutter and unwanted gift and donates it to charity.

This is the worse case scenario, hopefully not many of stones are donated to charity after being received as gifts. My point is: when buying crafts (or any other kind of ornament) as presents, it is important to know the receiver’s taste so that in their eyes, as well as ours, the object will be considered a craft or lovely ornament and not a piece of clutter.

The following scenario is the most suitable for craft’s producer like me: you are the buyer, you are the receiver, you like the craft, you are going to enjoy it, admire and love it for the time being, hence the object is a wonderful ornament and not a piece of clutter.

hand painted stone: craft or clutter?Door stop!Going back to that lady at the market, she liked the craft, she connected the craft to a memory, her lovely cat, but decided not to buy it, not because she thought my stone was clutter, but in consideration of the clutter she already possessed. This realization came to me much later, providing a little relive to my initial reaction. Having said that, and being aware of the thin line between clutter and a lovely ornament, from now on I will present my stones as paper weights and door stops, a clever use for the stones which I keep forgetting to mention to my potential buyers. Something useful cannot be labeled as clutter, I hope!

baking emporiumAnd now for the usual Skibbereen’s farmers market featured stalls, today I’m going to talk about one stall only, since according to my SEO tool, this post is long enough already! I like bread and I love the bread from The Baking Emporium. What I usually buy is the baguette, although it resembles an Italian ‘sfilatino’ more than a baguette, and that’s why I buy it. It is crunchy and delicious and you can be sure that most of the time, half of it it will be eaten before it reaches home. This unless I also buy the focaccia, with olive or cherry tomatoes. If that is the case, the baguette will survive the trip, while half the focaccia will reach my bottomless stomach before it reaches home. At The Baking Emporium’s stall you can find a large variety of breads including Wheat and Rye Breads Wheat-free Spelt Breads, Sourdough Breads , Soda Breads and delicious cakes and crackers. The Baking Emporium offers a catering service and participates to different farmer’s market around Co.Cork. You can read more about them on their Facebook page here or their Website, It was a nice day at the market today and although things were a little slow, I sold four pieces and headed home with a commission for a dog, which gave me the idea of painting an extra dog for the West Cork Animal Welfare Group, since the one I donated last week raised €25 for the shelter. Something to feel good about!

Skibbereen farmers’ market #4

Another day at Skibbereen farmers’ market.

Before I tell you about my day at Skibbereen farmer’s market, I am going to illustrate you a typical morning in our household.

This morning I quickly got up the moment the alarm went off, grabbed my clothes and dashed to the downstairs toilet to wash and get dressed. It’s market day! The downstairs toilet is very small and the only place to put my clothes while I perform my morning routine, is the floor. So after the routine, I pick up my clothes and notice that are slightly wet. Wait don’t let your imagination run wild. Yes it was pee but I had to investigate the source, so I smelled the clothes: it wasn’t human! My senile cat had performed his evening routine in the corner of the bathroom. Poor old cat (15 years), didn’t notice the litter box was gone, and peed anyway. Because the floor slopes slightly towards the door, the liquid accumulated in the form of a long undetectable strip against the door shoe, the spot were I dropped my clothes. It’s all about karma isn’t it?  Last night I was too lazy to clean the litter box, so I just put it outside, in the back garden. I made sure the window in the kitchen was open so that the three felines would go out and relieve themselves in the grass, if they needed to. I’m sure that two of them went out, but Puss didn’t. He doesn’t like to change habits, and did it on the spot where the litter box normally sits, on the toilet’s floor. Serves me right for procrastinating. Anyway, while mumbling nonsense, Italians swears mixed to a round of English ones, I went upstairs, grabbed another bunch of clothes and eventually got dressed, had breakfast and finally headed to Skibbereen farmers’ market!

The sky was beautifulSkibbereen farmers's market sky  this morning, and although lots of very spectacular clouds were floating above our heads, none of them decided to lash on us! There were only few drops of rain! I had enough of unwanted liquids for the day anyway. Skibbereen Farmers’ Market starts at 9 am and ends at around 2pm. This morning, one very popular stall, Ann Marie’s Baking, was sold out before time. The stall was right across mine and I could see people swarming over the cakes display, with the cakes becoming more and more scarce before my incredulous eyes. A sort of a live ‘time lapse’, if you know what I mean. Amazing. Click here if you want to view her facebook page.

Art of India at Skibbereen farmers' marketArt of India at Skibbereen farmers' marketSince starting to write about the different market stalls, I’m beginning to be a little bit braver. So today I decided to approach other marketeer with the intent of asking permission to take pictures of the stall, and explaining what I intend to do with them. The first one was Art Of India, a stall selling beautiful handmade sterling silver jewellery and Merino wool shawls. After chatting to Liz, I discovered that Art Of India is based in Cork city and participates  to Ballincollig’s market  on Wednesdays, Clonakilty on Fridays and Skibbereen most Saturdays. It might be a long way from Cork city, but Skibbereen Farmers’ Market is well worth the trip! Click here for Art of India’s Facebook page if you want to know more about it.
Crafty So and So at Skibbereen farmers' marketThe second stall victim of my camera was Crafty So and So. The very creative Stephen sells a range of hand made jewellery, boats, clocks and the very cute framed beach pebble birds. Crafty So and So at Skibbereen farmers' marketCrafty So and So is based in Rosscarbery and trades in Clonakilty on Fridays and Skibb on Saturdays. You can follow the official Facebook page here.

It was a good day at Skibbereen farmers’ market and I sold good few stones. I didn’t sell my turtles, and someone asked me if they were foxes (?) Mmh, interesting.I was starting to question my turtle likeness abilities, until later on someone else’s  kind comment  reassured me: ‘oh look at the cute turtles!’ said a lady to her two children. Thank you :)))!

After the market I returned went home where my old cat kindly reminded me that the litter box was still outside. The reminder consisted into peeing on the toilet floor again. You’ll never guess how I discovered it this time. I always take my shoes off when I get home, and then go to the toilet…

Items at Skibbereen farmers's market



Skibbereen farmers’ Market at its best!

Another day at Skibbereen farmer’s market in West Cork. It was a sunny start, with a little fog on the hills. It sounds lovely and indeed it was lovely, until a heavy shower turned the air chilly and everyone and everything,  soaking wet. Seeing people walking in the rain without an umbrella, doesn’t surprise me anymore and I’m one of them. In Italy I was used to carry an umbrella, if it happened to be just a little cloudy. I now understand that even if one gets wet, bandthe water will eventually evaporate (turning into more rain?mmh) or perhaps will be absorbed – aren’t we made of 70% water? (of tea and coffee in my case). But this morning’s rain was impossible to ignore, it was way too…wet! More or less everyone took shelter and waited what felt like hours – it was only 20 minutes – until the sun finally decided to return, or more correctly, the nasty gray cloud moved over another unfortunate location. And it was business as usual.  St. Fachtna’s Silver Band and Musikverein Waldaschaff joined forces and delighted the many spectators with a selection of delightful pieces. I quickly run through the stalls like a lunatic to take this pick (I didn’t want to leave the stall unattended for too long!) You can follow the local brass band on their Facebook page here

Next tpam2o my little table today, was the lovely Pamela and her Perfect Crystals for Pets’ stall. Pamela makes beautiful crystal jewellery for pets and their owners, combining style with the healing energy of Crystals according to individual needs. This was the second time my stall was next to Pamela and while I was eagerly gazing at her crystals, she was feeding me ginger cookies. How nice is that? I would really like a crystal and next time (and more cookies, please!) I will make sure I look at her Crystal Healer book before she starts trading, since her stall is usually very busy. I had a look at her website here and found two stones that I would find useful, one is the Rose Quartz also called the “The ‘Love Crystal’ Good for Forgivenessand apam general feeling of Well-Being. Youthful Complexion, Hair Condition, Wrinkles”  (The hair conditioning part especially appeals to me!), and the Smokey Quartz, “A Protective Crystal.  Good for Grounding, Meditation, Fear, Anger & General Negativity.
Helps you move forward in life.”

Foto credit: Felticulture

I also had a chat with another lovely and very young marketeer today; her name is Kathryn and she makes beautiful felt flowers. Her creations show a great deal of imagination, patience and skill. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take a picture of her stall, because she left the market shortly after the heavy shower. It was while recovering from the wash, that I thought about writing about the different stalls. But you can find all you need to know about her work, on the Facebook page Felticulture.

I received lots of nice comments today, but the one I liked the most was a funny one from a man who bought a ladybird for his daughter, he said: ‘ I can’t believe I’m buying a STONE!’ I couldn’t help but laughing at the comment, and omitted to say that if he soaks the stone in hot water for few seconds, he will end up with a bare stone, in case the little girl would try and wash the stone in the intent of getting a “Bear Stone”. I tend to pronounce the two words the same way.  Anyway please don’t soak my stones in hot water, acrylics are waterproof but not heat resistant! After chatting to few lovely friends, at around 2 o’clock, I decided to start packing my things. I reached for the box under the table and realized that it had been sitting on the ground, all morning. It was now a papier mache mess. Cardboard boxes are the most vulnerable containers in West Cork. Oh well. I had to carry my stuff back to the car in armfuls. Plastic box next time or a helper with bigger arms – whoop whoop!

Nearly forgot! I was so busy talking about other marketeers, I forgot to post a picture of my stall!


Foxgloves work in progress

I started this painting ten days ago and decided to paint a little bit each week-end. For the first time in years (decades) I used a grid to draw the outline of the plant, usually I draw freehand, but lately I kind of suck at managing proportions (that also applies to normal daily activities, such as cooking 1 kg of pasta for two people or parking the car so close to the next one, that I need to get out from the passenger’s door…) I never liked foxgloves growing in my garden, and always got rid of them. This was until we moved house. Now we have a 25ft square of grass covered in cat poop, so I really miss those colorful tubular beauties (much better than the current tubular…things).


I’m approaching the bottom half of the canvas with a bit of excitement since the color of the flowers is becoming a little bit deeper and I’m very happy with the background, it is my favorite part so far! I think that from now on I will paint “out of focus” stuff and if I will ever expose my paintings, people will think they forgot their specs.  I will update this post with new pictures soon! Please Scroll down to see all the different stages! Enjoy!flower1 flower2 flower3 flower4 flower5

flower6flower7 flower8

Skibbereen Farmers’ Market

For the past three weeks I have been participating to the local farmers’ market. Skibbereen farmers’ market is a unique and very popular market held every Saturday from 9.00am to 2.00pm in the centre of the town. The market offers a variety of fruits, vegetable, fresh fish, meat and eggs, cheese and cold meats of all kinds and last but not least, homemade breads and cakes, all locally produced and delicious.market2
The number of stalls selling hot food are enough to make it tough to decide what to eat! Sometimes the best solution is to let your sense of smell guide you. Since the smell of fresh brewed coffee will surely interfere with your decision, any decision in my case, it is a good idea to have immediately a cup and then browse the stalls sipping this heavenly beverage. Stalls selling second hand books, clothes, pottery, crafts and so on can also be found at the market and I can proudly say that I’m part of this category! I had a very small table for the first two weeks, made from a piece of mdf and a keyboard stand. The mdf was barely a 70cm square,  so last Saturday morning at 7.45am (market starts at 9) I decided to use the top of the coffee table from our living room instead. After few minutes cursing with a screw driver, I managed to separate the table top from its short legs and off I was to the market. My previous table was small and also too tall and some children would walk past without noticing my cute stones. With the bigger table top, I was able to lower the keyboard stand allowing children to spot my stones from a distance. These children would then PULL their parents towards the table (I saw it happening !) After the market I promptly re-screwed the table top onto pocketits four legs, but for some mysterious reason the whole structure is now very wobbly…mmh. You probably wonder why I didn’t use the coffee table in the first place instead of the top only…I just thought of it! Anyway I intend to find a table top this week in the local builder supplies’ back yard and ignore* the now wobbly coffee table (*me whistling and looking at the ceiling). The first day at the market I was very nervous, even if it wasn’t the first time ever, but shortly after setting up and chatting with people visiting the stall and few friends who dropped by, I relaxed and enjoyed the lovely atmosphere. Needless to say the market is now a weekly event that I look forward to participate as a seller and buyer, because between customers I always sneak to my favourite stands and buy bread veggies and eggs. pocketlogoNew addition to my selection of painted stones are “Pocket Pets”, still hand painted, maller, for small hand, and featuring cute animals, each Pocket Pet comes with a felt pocket or and a mini colouring book. They are only €4 . They take a good bit of effort and time to make, due to the size (they can fit the palm of your hand) and the “accessories”, the felt bag and mini colouring book,  but they are especially made for children who sometimes cannot afford to buy my larger stones with their pocket money (another reason for the name Pocket Pets!). They can be used as paper-holder or simply a decoration for the bedroom. Also children feel inspired by rock art and next thing they will be collecting stones from the beach and having a go at painting them. If that happens please ask them to leave some of the smoother stones for me!




Ingredients for soffritto

1 carrot

1 onion

2 celery sticks

extra virgin olive oil


Chop onion, carrot and celery in small pieces, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables.Cook gently until soft. Can you smell that? That is the smell of my childhood.Travelling from room to room, accompanied by the sound of the sizzling oil, the smell of soffritto was the signal that my Mum had started cooking. It is still the kind of smell that can make me instantly hungry simply because in my family, soffritto is always the prelude of something really yummy, like “Ragu'” the traditional Tuscan pasta sauce, chicken cacciatore  or stew. Many times in the past my nose would register that smell while in my sleep, sending confused messages to my brain: “Wow, this Duran Duran concert is AMAZING! Are they cooking as well as playing and singing?I can smell soffritto…can you even smell in dreams?.” I would suddenly wake up smelling the air and after a sleepy consideration, realise that it must be Sunday, because it is nearly half past six in the morning and my Mum is cooking. Lasagna is on the menu.


The Village

As a primary school student, I spent a great deal of time learning how to spell the name of the village where I lived: Pontetetto. The challenge consisted in using the right amount of T’s and E’s in the correct order. I was told that a long time ago the bridge that joins the north side of the village to the south side, was covered by a roof and it was in fact that bridge that gave origin to the unusual name, with the word “Ponte” meaning bridge and “tetto”, meaning roof. After the second world war, however, little was left of the bridge and its roof. The bridge was rebuilt, this time without a roof, but the name was kept, causing not little distress to those who had to learn how to spell its name for the first time. Although I understand that renaming the village “Ponte” would have been a bit odd, another name should have been considered for the sake of all the poor elementary school students. Anyway, by the time I was in third grade I was well able to spell Pontetetto. Can you pronounce it?