Making rainbow unicorn bark

rainbow Unicorn bark | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

Having recently rediscovered artist dates (I’m actually reading the Artist’s Way now, along with two friends, and it is so far both wonderful and a bit uncomfortable), and with the studio now finished enough to work in, I’ve been collecting ideas of what I can do with precious alone time.

Carla Louise's artist date Pinterest board screenshot | carlalouise.com

There’s lots on there from the general list of things I want to do in 2017, but the one that caught my eye this afternoon when I returned home from spending Sunday with my parents was UNICORN BARK.

Chocolate bark is quite an American thing, I think, but chocolate is chocolate whichever side of the ocean you’re on, and when you can make it swirly, sparkly and pastel coloured, I’m definitely in.

It’s also easy and quick, which given everything I should be doing other than making chocolate, is a good thing!

rainbow Unicorn bark | Carla Watkins Photography for carlalouise.com

Ingredients

Good quality white chocolate (I used Menier, and made a mini 100g bar of bark for this first run)

Food colouring in the colours of your choice (I went for purple, pink and blue. Online opinion says you should have oil based candy colouring. I couldn’t find this in a hurry, so went for Dr Oetker gel colours which worked fine!)

Greaseproof/waxed paper (I used foil/parchment which I believe was from Aldi)

Hundreds and thousands, glitter, sparkly sugar bits (all optional – mine were bronze sugar pieces from Waitrose which I had lurking in my cupboard)

That’s it!

Method

Line a shallow container with your waxed paper.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of water on the hob. If you’re using the microwave, do it in 15 or 20 second bursts, or you’ll do what I did with the first bar, burn the bottom and end up with inedible crispy chunks in your chocolate. And wasted chocolate is practically a crime!

When smooth and stirrable, split between three or more bowls – one for each colour.

Working fairly quickly, mix your food colouring into each bowl. I used about five drops of the gel colour to get this strength, which I’d say is strong pastel – you can adjust as you fancy.

Dollop the coloured chocolate randomly into the waxed paper tray, swirl around a bit with a fork.

Sprinkle with your choice of toppings, then leave to cool (not in the fridge as this can do weird things to the chocolate’s finish).

When it’s properly cool,  break into pieces.

And voila… unicorn bark!

2016 in review: the roundup

The last of my yearly review posts, this one is all the things that have happened this year.

2016 was hard… in so many ways, for so many people. So I’m focusing mainly (though not exclusively) on the good here, because those are the things I’d like to remember.

Friendship was a major theme of the year for me – making new ones, consolidating new-ish ones, refreshing old ones, and letting go of some entirely. Also, right at the end of the year, making friends with a kindred spirit in the cat food aisle of Tesco. Yes, really. #officiallyacrazycatlady. My friends have put up with a lot this year, and have endlessly soothed and comforted me during the bad times, and also shared in and multiplied the good ones. I am unbelievably blessed!

Kittens have had an interesting year – Luna got hit by a car at least once and lost all her claws on one foot (they’re just now starting to grow back). She came home three more times with mashed claws, and we had two more emergency vet visits, at which point I bought a curfew cat flap, which they are not that excited about, but which is soothing my frazzled nerves during the winter days when it is full dark before I come home. They’ve had a whole string of things wrong with them, including an operation Luna needed on her mouth earlier in the year, and I am now on first name terms with the entire staff of Colne Valley practice. Who have been amazing throughout. They are, however, as glorious as ever, and while I’ve had some WTF moments, I am very glad they are in my life and that they’ve survived the building of the house, the garden and then the studio!

The build is finished! I’m writing this from my garden studio, and I got all my keys back from various trades on 22 December. Which felt momentous, after sixteen months of disruption. It has been exciting and stressful in equal parts, though now the dust is (literally) starting to settle, I am enormously grateful to have created my perfect home almost from scratch. Now I just have to pay for it…! The studio feels particularly momentous, as I need to kickstart all my business activities again, and having a dedicated home for that is quite magical – it’s true that you don’t know you’ll miss something until it’s gone! It’s also very restful to have my living room back and not have trailing cables all over the place…

(more…)

2016 in review: Daydreams to Do

Another year, another list to update – this time my epic Daydreams To Do list.

In 2016 I managed to cross off…

2. Create the fantasy fine art photos that have been in my head for decades – after some tentative faffing in 2015, and some loving kicking from lovely friends, I have made a bit of headway with this – mainly camera calibration, confidence and ideas. But I did create this little lovely in a stolen moment just before sunset one summer evening…

Tea Party by Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

Work needed, but it made me so happy and was the first thing I’d made for ages for the pure joy of it!

3. Outdoor dinner party (ideally hosted but I’d attend one just as happily, as long as fairy lights are involved) I had a gardenwarming BBQ in August!

4. Swim in a mermaid tail  Yep, more mermaid swimming happened this year, and I met & swam with other mers too!

©Photography by Grace Hill www.photographybygrace.co.uk

16. Take a boat out on Coniston & Windermere, following in the Swallows & Amazons’ footsteps – not quite, but I did follow in the Swallows’ footsteps on a gorgeous day trip to Pin Mill earlier in the year, with Rhiannon and Janine.  We saw Alma Cottage, had lunch at the Butt & Oyster, had a glorious walk and then finished with tea & dessert at the pub. Everything about the day was magical!

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

Pin Mill walk | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

27. Wild swimming – her’es me, just about to go into the sea, in Selsey!

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire at Selsey

29. Vintage events – Twinwood festival with Lou this summer – it rained but it was still glorious!

31. Photography training & courses – I did Nicola Taylor’s Creative Photography Roadmap in February, and will be diving back into that in 2017, and I had a training day with Kerrie Mitchell in March.

36. Meet an online friend in person – Met up with lots of mermaid friends this year!

39. Make a video for YouTube – not sure why this has been on my list so long, but here’s a mermaid one I made…

41. Finish my five year diary and buy another one for the first half of my thirties – I did finish my five year diary on my 30th, and I did buy another one, but I haven’t actually written in it all year!

45. Create a library in my house – my spare room is now a library with a TV screen and a sofa bed – reading perfection!

46. Complete an online class This year I completed Do What You Love <3 There are many half finished ones to go!

53. Go kayaking. To the pub?! I went kayaking almost by accident in October, with the girls, for Ally’s birthday. It was glorious! (I did try to go with Maddy in August but sadly that was the day Luna-kitty had an argument with a car, so spent the evening in the vet’s instead!)

As always, it’s lovely to see things on my list come to fruition, and I hadn’t actually realised I’d done so many this year! <3

2016 in review: the sidebar list

Well, on the surface this year’s been a doozy. And not in the good sense!

But instead of focusing on all the bad stuff, I thought I’d try and see what lovely things have taken place this year, against the background of the world going completely mad and me losing a little of my (already dubious) sanity.

First things first – there’s always a list in that sidebar over there, and here’s what I had for 2016:

~ cook a curry from scratch ~ ride a horse, a unicorn or both ~ spend time by the sea ~ swim in a mermaid tail ~ have my colours done ~ go skinny dipping ~ visit ruins ~ wild swimming ~ build a garden studio ~ silversmithing workshop ~ photography training ~ launch mermaid school ~ start a herb garden ~ track business progress ~ experiment with film cameras ~ GEA meets

Not too bad, actually – I swam lots in a mermaid tail and launched mermaid school to the world, so got quite a few other people to be a mermaid too! This included a couple of random people at the pool I regularly swim at, dear friends Emily and Louise, Megan at Bodyposipanda and her lovely friend Joely, Lizzie, a selection of my amazing family who jumped straight on board, and of course my gorgeous clients.

I also managed to spend time by the sea at Selsey with Lou, which was incredibly good for the soul, much needed, and also involved mermaid tails and wild swimming – though swimming in the sea in a tail is MUCH harder than I expected! Hugs to Jo for the amazing pictures she took of us under very difficult conditions 🙂

Louise and Carla - mermaids by Jo Jackson Photography

Likewise I spent a blissful afternoon on Clacton beach with fellow mermaid Emily, talented photographer Grace and her fab other half, and bopo beauties Megan and Joely. We had an absolute blast and I hope to do lots more around the #bodypositivemermaids idea next year!

I had my colours done with the gorgeous Janine in January – I am a bold Winter, and I have found it transformational to know what colours and shades are most me. Highly recommended! Here’s a gallery of Sophie being draped, she and I did it together and it was fab!

My herb garden is up and running (well, currently snoozing for winter) was very effective and even survived the garden build! The only things it’s missing are parsley and thyme. Photos next year!

I had a day of VIP training with Kerrie Mitchell back in March, a catch up call with her just the other day, and this year I’ve become friends with the fabulous Sarah who has been photographically kicking my backside beautifully 🙂

And I’m typing this from my garden studio, which is three quarters of my converted garage, cosy as anything and honestly the culmination of so many hopes and dreams, I can’t even. Also it was finished on 22 December – cutting it fine for 2016 much?!

So a pretty good show for that little list, I think!

I’m still working on what I want to do in 2017 – but keep an eye on the sidebar, it’ll be up soon enough!

Seasonal musings, winter solstice and glitter jars

As Christmas Eve eve draws to a close, I am once again completely bemused by how fast the year has gone (I’m sure there is a conspiracy) and how much good stuff there has been in what feels, overall, like a very bad year indeed.

I celebrated the winter solstice with friends on Wednesday, with cooking (which turned out amazingly) and glitter jar making, which was a lovely way to start winter and end my build.

Glitter jars by Carla Louise | carlalouise.com

I got my keys back from my builder the day after the solstice, and oh, this studio space – it already feels like the most peaceful, productive space I’ve ever had. I am full of gratitude and excitement… and my home feels like home again, which is wonderful.

After Luna’s fourth incident, a couple of weeks ago, of arriving home with split, mashed claws (this time accompanied by a fat lip and heavy, terrified breathing for longer than is healthy, so yet another emergency vet visit), I gave in and bought a curfew cat flap. It’s made by Sureflap, who made the microchip flap I already had, and still does selective entry using microchips so that only my two furry idiots can come in. It also has a function where it locks itself at a certain time in the day, which I have set for half past three in the afternoon, so the cats still get eight hours a day of outdoor access but are safely in by the time it gets dark, and away from the school run and people rushing home from work. And away from the asshole tabby cat who seems to come out at night, and who I am fairly sure is part of the reason Luna keeps coming home hurt – the first incident was almost definitely a car accident, but there is no way she has been hit four times in four months when we live in a cul de sac!

Programming the cats in was hilarious – they recommend installing it and getting your cats to walk through, but with my luck this year I decided it’d be infinitely better to catch each cat, put the flap into learn mode and put it over their head before I installed it into the door. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but I wish I’d filmed it – by the time I’d managed to get both cats programmed in, I was helpless with laughter, we’d got through an obscene amount of treats, and they sulked for the rest of the evening!

The proper year review post will come, once I’ve done my planning for 2017. This year I got an accountant (the lovely Kylie) who has successfully managed to get me to submit my accounts, and has done my tax return, so for the first time in years I am clear to spend NYE planning and relaxing, rather than doing my sodding business accounts in a panic. This is a Very Good Thing.

But today, I really just wanted to say Happy Christmas / Yule / insert whatever you celebrate here, mark the end of my day job year, and give heartfelt thanks for the studio where I am sitting and typing this to you.

I’m looking forward to Christmas and have mostly managed my shopping this year – though am behind with cards and have struggled to fit in all my responsibilities with all the things I love and want to do. For lots of reasons, I would like this to be the last year that I work full time at a day job – one of my big 2017 goals is to drop some hours so there is more balance in my life. And more consistent blog posts as I enter my thirteenth (!) year of blogging – if you are reading this and you’ve stuck around during this rather random year, I am delighted – thank you!

So after that wonderfully rambly post with no real point (I love having this blog back as a non businessy one), here are some more pics of the glitter jars. The turquoise represents the sea, the pink & gold is sunrise/sunset and the deep blue is the night sky.

Merry Christmas, happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2017!!

NaNo…PhoMo?!

Two years ago, I started NaNoWriMo, wrote assiduously each day for a week, and ended up with the beginnings of the book of my cats’ story. Heavily fictionalised.

Last November, I was running around like a total headless chicken trying to finish the house before winter hit, and if I remember rightly, I had garden chairs instead of a sofa, and 70s tiles instead of proper carpet.

This year… I am attempting to tell my story in photographs.

Stolen Moments | Singlehood series | Carla Watkins Photography | carlawatkinsphotography.com

This year has been so hard, in so many ways, but the last few months, even with all their trials, have taught me (along with some very good friends who have given me loving but firm kicks up the backside) that a) I can in fact take beautiful photos and b) that longing to make something of that talent/passion/call it what you will isn’t going to go away – I’ve been trying to get rid of it for a decade, and it keeps coming back to assert its presence.

So I am either going to attempt 30 photos or 50 photos in November. One a day, or the 50,000 goal of NaNoWriMo, translated into each picture being worth a thousand words. I’m sure mine won’t be, and that there will be a lot of cats, but I’m excited to give it a go.

Of course, it’s the 2nd already and I have taken no photos – the day job is manic, and yesterday evening was taken over with kitty anxiety when madam Luna appeared with blunted, frayed claws again. The fact that she seems utterly fine in herself, if a bit cross with me for poking her paws every time I get near her, that it really was only the tips (whereas with her previous accident, she lost all the claws on one of her back feet entirely) and that miss Clover had similar damage to the claws on one of her back feet, tells me that perhaps it’s to do with the concrete in the garden and their insistence on jumping off the shed.

So no photographs yet (the one in this post is from my Singlehood series, started last year). But there are fireworks this week, and a trip to Pin Mill, and my studio build, and a friendship shoot from last week to edit, and lots of delightful things to look at through my lens. And of course the mischievous kitteny cats.

I might even get round to finishing the rework of the Carla Watkins Photography site and blogging them on there!

And I realised just after I got really excited about NaNoPhoMo… that it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and National Novel Photo Month doesn’t quite make sense… I’m going to use the tag anyway though, I suspect.

Are you NaNo-ing?? Or are you with me on the NaPho-ing?!