“Creativity is intelligence having fun”
– Albert Einstein
My Fanciful Muse
Ah, the Internet is a wonderful thing – where would we EFL teachers be without it? An endless source of ideas, materials, information, as well as supplier of a number of ways of keeping in touch with friends and family back home, you can’t help but wonder how TEFLers of the past managed to survive. It has to be said, however, that it’s also full of rubbish. Not to disdain rubbish – it has its uses too. Sometimes, when your brain is fried, a spot of drivel is all it can cope with.
On the other hand, when your brain has merely been lightly sautéed by a day in your EFL class, and you’re finding that the lack of cultural and/or intellectual vitality in your new location is turning you into a latter-day Madame Bovary, it’s nice to beat the ennui with a meander through the Internet maze in search of something more substantial, stimulating, original, or just plain beautiful.
One such bout of online wandering led to a corner of the digital world belonging to Evelyn Kennedy Duncan. A mixed media artist, Ms Duncan’s blog, “My Fanciful Muse”, is chock-a-block full of images and writings related to her fascination for antique cardboard theatres, vintage paper dolls, digital scrap-booking, and much, much more. The treasure trove of digital objets d’art include the artist’s own creations – sometimes put together digitally, sometimes the old-fashioned way with scissors and glue – producing delightful scenes with a similar sort of charm and fascination that dolls’ houses hold for many a young girl, but with a great deal more sophistication, and a dash of history thrown in for good measure.
Vintage In Vogue
The trend for ‘vintage’ is one which has touched fashion, home furnishings, and even website graphics in a big way over the last decade or so, to the point that the word itself – vintage – has become an over-generalised label for everything and anything non-contemporary. In particular, 1950’s style in graphic art had a bit of a boom a few years back, with every second website, or so it seemed, decked out with beaming housewives in pastel aprons, suited men with brilliantined hair, Cadillacs, ice-cream sundaes and fonts inspired by Fifties advertising and branding. That particular trend seems now to be in decline, however, that will be of little import to Ms Duncan, as her interest is focused on eras quite a bit further back in time and truly worthy of the ‘vintage’ label.
Not Ironic, Just Gorgeous
Whereas the Fifties housewives have to be viewed through an irony filter to be palatable in our post-feminism age, the characters which populate the Edwardian, Victorian, Regency, Georgian, and Rococo miniature worlds of Ms Duncan are so splendid as to transcend the need for irony. Yes, those bustles and corsets must have been hellish to wear, but my feeling is that we’re not really under any pressure to relate to those powdered, starched, whale-boned characters as representatives of fellow human beings, but only to admire them as symbols of exquisite stylisations of humanity, as they pose in their elegant environments, whether those be parlours, ballrooms, theatre stages or on the staircases of palaces.
“My Fanciful Muse” isn’t just a visual feast, it is also an inspiration for the manually dexterous and the creatively spirited, as the elements which compose the scenes – empty rooms, windows, stages, furniture, curtains, and, of course, the characters themselves – can be downloaded and used in your own compositions. For the nimble-fingered TEFLer with free-time on their hands, and in need of a creative outlet, sticking to the digital method of composing scenes might be the best option, as the resulting works of art can live quite happily inside your pc, and travel with you wherever you may roam. It has to be said, wherever you do roam, you’re not very likely to come across too many people with the same hobby, which would make it a wonderfully original conversation piece at dinner.
Of course, you have to be a dab-hand with Photoshop, its free-of-charge, not-so-poor relative, Gimp, or the easiest to master, Paint.net, if you want to keep it all in the digital realm. However, if you’re not graphically-gifted, and the idea of learning to use a new program makes you want to reach for the smelling salts, there’s always the option of printing out the images, pasting them onto cardboard and assembling them in the non-digital world, much the way the paper theatres were originally intended to be put together, although it could be argued that possessing a few basic skills in a graphics program isn’t completely superfluous for an EFL teacher; if you include a lot of visuals in your home-made teaching materials, being able to make them to measure from scratch, or to adapt preexisting ones to your specific needs, is actually a very useful skill to have.
ONLINE ART TUTORIALS
If you do decide to invest some time in learning to use Photoshop, The Gimp or Paint.net, the good news is that, although it’s true that the Internet is full of people trying to get you to sign up for paying services, to buy commodities, spam you and sell your personal data for profit, there’s also an impressive number of good souls who create and offer free tutorials, many of which on video, to accompany the eager learner through step-by-step lessons on just about any skill you can imagine. I always get the impression that those involved in IT and digital graphics and art are particularly generous with their time and talents, and Ms Duncan is no exception. Not only does her blog offer a variety of tutorials on how to create similar objets d’art, she also graciously answers queries and clears up perplexities, and, most generously of all, offers the images on her website, whether sourced by her or painstakingly created by her, for free download, with the only proviso being to include an attribution and a link if her images are used on your website or blog.
For the arty-farty among us, digital artistry is an awfully convenient option when the TEFL lifestyle can keep you on the move, travelling as light as possible, for years on end, and certainly one to explore if the urge to get creative ever grabs you.
And if you’re not at all arty-farty, but just love vintage, then you’re going to enjoy going for a wander through the pages of “My Fanciful Muse” just for the sheer pleasure of it. Click on the loveseat below to see for yourself.