Monday, April 6, 2015

Saturday Trip to the Flower Market

If you are an early riser even on weekends, one of the best places to be on a Saturday morning in Sofia is the flower market Dimitar Petkov. This Saturday was relatively cool, but the sun was shining, so it was a delight to be out and about shopping for veggies and flowers at the market. This past Sunday was Palm Sunday here in Bulgaria, so there were a lot of people buying flowers for their homes or for friends and family that have been named after plants and celebrate their name days on Palm Sunday.

I was actually too busy to take photos, but I snapped a few here and there, and I also have some of the flowers that I arranged in the vases at home. I also got some herbs to plant, but I will go back sometime in the next few weeks to buy more, once the weather warms. Last year was very rainy and my basil died relatively quickly, probably thinking that fall was coming, but this year I'm hoping that there will be enough sun for it to survive longer.

Since today we woke up to a bit of a snowstorm, I thought I'd post my flower snapshots with the hope of chasing away the last cold days and ushering in warmer weather for Easter this weekend. It was a bit depressing to have to dig out my warm fluffy jacket again when it's already April.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Art Shelf

I have been looking around for artwork for my house ever since I moved in a few years back, and I never seemed to have any luck. Rarely did anything catch my eye, and if it did I usually found some small detail that I didn't like or the work was simply too expensive. As much as I would like to, it would be hard for me to pay thousands of dollars for a painting. I have also browsed Etsy for hours at a time trying to find something for my living room to no avail...until this past December.

It all started with the painting in the middle, an abstract ink on paper, that I randomly saw on Etsy and loved at first sight. Because my living room is in coffee, chocolate and cream colors, this work fit perfectly with my decor and the other pieces that I have painted myself for the room. After that, it seemed that great pieces of art were simply falling into my lap from Etsy's pages, and I ended up with this small collection at very reasonable prices. I am very pleased with my new art shelf, so I thought I'd give a shout out to the artists:

from left to right

Forest - art print by Schall Eszter
This shop has really cute art by the Hungarian illustrator Schall Eszter - birds in the forest, drunk foxes singing, elephants jumping rope, orange frogs and Eskimos fishing. I chose this adorable print of a bird near a cherry tree to keep up with the bird theme I have going on at home.

Autumn Treescape - linocut by Giuliana Lazzerini
I took some printmaking classes in college, so I couldn't pass up on a hand-pulled linocut with tiny birds hand-drawn in ink. Another must-have for my bird theme. There are also a lot of fox and hare prints on her Etsy shop as well.

Moon and Stars - watercolor by BluePalette
This is a real favorite of mine. I have worked with watercolor since my first art class when I was four, so I can appreciate the delicate beauty of this technique and the craftsmanship it requires. BluePalette's shop has these amazing circle watercolors that are truly great finds. They are little gems, and I wish I could buy a bunch of these and make a whole gallery wall with them. Not saying I won't at some point :)
I love the night sky, especially in the summer when it is full of stars and everything is quiet in the dead of night, but you are awake and basking in its serenity. This is what this painting reminds me of, so I had to get it. At 20 dollars, I think it is a bargain.

Abstract Ink Drawing - ink drawing by ComArt
This is the painting that started it all, and I still love it. Some people have asked me what is it that I see in it, since it is basically a splotch of ink, but I tell them that it is beautiful. I don't know what it is, but I find it truly beautiful and harmonious in its composition. This artist has some great stuff.

Minimalist Modern Linocut - linocut by Toni Point
If you are looking for something minimalist, this is the place to go. I really like the play of shapes and positive-negative space in the print I bought. It is dynamic and simple at the same time. This goes to show that linocuts don't have to be ornamental, but they can play in the abstract realm as well.

Watercolor Illustration- glicee print by Victoria
There was no actual title given to this piece by the author, as far as I've seen, but I call it my "Sun painting", so that in my collection I have a sun and I have a moon (the little round watercolor). This abstract piece also looks great, and it has an incredible richness of colors. The fact that it's not all bright jewelled tones makes the depth of hues even better - the neutral background in beige, cream and cappuccino flows to beautiful little speckles of gold, navy, sea blue and aubergine. I would have loved to own the original, but since it was not available, I decided to get the glicee print and enjoy the painting anyway.

So there it is, my modest little collection, but one that I now love to look at every day. As an artist myself, I find that having art in one's home makes it cozy and unique, and I hope that you all can find something that you like out there - there are great little galleries around Sofia and abroad, and there is always Etsy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Surva Festival of Masquerade Games 2015

It is no secret that I love festivals, and ethnic festivals are definitely among my favorites. This is the fourth time I've gone to the Surva Festival of Masquerade Games, and it was probably the best one yet. The costumes, the folk music, the crowds - it's all incredibly fun and intricately beautiful. This year I got a reporter's badge and I could once again be in with the performers, having the wonderful opportunity to photograph them up close and personal. But that wasn't what made this year the best. Maybe it was the longer festival route, starting at the church "St. Ivan Rilski" and moving to the main stage, then passing through the Survakari village with the food court and finishing at the stage next to the Palace of Culture. Or maybe it was just that I let myself wander around more and photograph a little less, immersing myself in the joyous spirit, the loud noise and vibrant colors. I had a marvelous time among the scary monsters, the men masked as Baba Yaga, the clang of the cow bells and the embroidered skirts of the Bulgarian national costumes. Even the fires are welcoming.

The Tradition 

For those of your who don't know, or have not read my previous posts here and here, I should explain that the kukeri, mummers dressed in scary masks and costumes made of animal furs, horns, feathers and adorned with bells, gather at the beginning of every year to honor an ancient Thracian ritual of scaring the evil spirits away. This festival in Pernik is one of the biggest in Bulgaria - hundreds of kukeri of any age flock here to become a part of this long-lasting tradition. In fact, the little kids are my favorite, so every year I try to photograph at least a couple of these smallest participants in the craziness. 

Animal Kingdom 

This year there was also an abundance of animals, both real and fake - from donkeys and mules to this stork guy with red tights and a rope-controlled beak that snaps when pulled. The stork even carries a martenitsa! The masks were also great, as usual, horned, toothed, hairy and even with nests on their heads (my favorite), and some were ridiculously tall and made of a variety of game (crazy). 

The only downside to the costumes, besides the fact that the bells and masks usually weigh a ton, is that they kind of smell like a sheep / goat / cow / bird. Not everyone had that problem, though. The group from Kazanluk, the town that is famous for its rose oil production, was the best smelling group of the whole festival. They had dabbed all their costumes in rose oil, so the luscious scent was around them like a flowery cloud. Maybe this is why they were mostly girls :)

The Food Court - Bulgarian Style

In the West it's McDonald's or fish and chips; in Bulgaria it is roast pork or lamb on a spit, sausages hanging from a rail, kebapcheta and kiofteta sizzling on the grill and special festival wine in every glass. If I have to say one thing that Bulgarians will always do on a holiday, it's enjoy their food. Eating is a long and rich social affair, accompanied by generous amounts of liquor. This festival did not disappoint in that regard, either. I'm pretty sure that at least half of the participants and the audience were indulging in more than a little wine or grape rakia. By the way, notice how the pig is being turned on the spit...yes, that's a steering wheel :)

And what is the other usual staple at festivals in Bulgaria? The street stalls with Turkish Delight, traditional pottery, and souvenirs. You could definitely find some treasures among the usual junk this year, and the painted pots always remind of delicious home-cooked meals. All in all, it was a good day!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Soft Pumpkin Cookies and Goodbye Vacation

Like I said in my slice-and-bake cookies post, I have decided to let loose during the holidays and indulge in making and eating some homemade sweets. This year I made a ton of tikvenik (pumpkin pastry with cinnamon and walnuts) for our Christmas and New Year celebrations, but I ended up with a piece of leftover pumpkin that I didn't use. I was wondering what to do with it (it was not enough for my favorite baked pumpkin soup) when I came across a recipe for soft pumpkin cookies on Food for the soul. It just so happens that I do usually like my cookies soft, even chocolate chip cookies, so I though I'd give the recipe a go. I changed the filling a little bit, though: instead of cream+sugar+butter+curds+mascarpone, I did a simpler cream+a little bit of powdered sugar filling, and for the marmalade filling, I used my homemade quince marmalade without much added butter. I liked the recipe, and the cookies turned out very delicious indeed. I will enjoy them on my last day of freedom before the work week and the work year officially starts :)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

All That Happened in 2014

So, what happened in 2014?

Commissioned art (read more about one of the pieces here)
New job!
Team building in Verona and the Tyrolean Alps
Greek road trip to Thessaloniki, Lefkada, Meteora and Katerini
Two weddings: being a bridesmaid at my friend Lilly's and a guest at the other wedding in Arbanasi  (read more here)
Museum Night in Sofia
One Design Week in Plovdiv (read more here, here and here)
Product training in Osijek, Croatia
Reenactment of the April Uprising in Koprivshtica (read more here)
Day trip to the Krushuna Falls
Holiday parties and reunions with friends
10 year reunion at the American College of Sofia
Some articles about me (read here and here)

and that's just in brief :)

And what to expect (and hope for) in 2015?

More commissioned art.
New products in my art shop (stay tuned!).
Travel, travel, travel! Somehow it always seems like I don't travel enough, even if this year alone I had three trips abroad and many more around Bulgaria. I am kicking off next year with a birthday bash with friends in London, and we'll see how it goes from there.
One Design Week again, and maybe this time I will try to participate in the bazaar if I have time.
More weddings coming up.

And let's hope for:
Healthy lifestyle and lots of movement
More time spent with friends
Only happiness on the personal front

New year, here I come!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sweet Side of the Holidays

The holidays are usually my time to take a stab at new recipes, especially if they involve baking and sweets. I have given myself a free pass from my healthy diet for the month of December, so cookies were definitely on my agenda. I even had the grand plan of making big batches of cookies as Christmas treats, but between reunions with friends, collage making, and cooking for dinners and parties, I never found the time. Which is why these are not Christmas cookies, but New Year's Eve cookies :)

I seem to have a habit of trying out recipes from Smitten Kitchen around Christmas (two years ago it was the clementine cake, for example), and this year was no exception. The challenge was making slice-and-bake cookies, and I dare say that they turned out pretty good. I haven't been the best at making cookies in the past; I seem to be so afraid of having them be raw that I end up overbaking them and having to eat a batch of close to "break your teeth" hard cookies. Not this time. I have learned my lesson. I left them in the oven for just the right amount of time, and I took them out even when they still looked a bit soft to me, but it was the correct thing to do. They turned out just right.

I modified the recipe a little bit by making the cranberry version of the cookie with coconut, and I also made a chocolate cookie with mini chocolate chips and walnuts, which turned out very tasty. There is a fancy hotel close to my office where we usually have work events, and they always serve cookies like these at coffee breaks. Now I can make my own coffee break at home. Since I don't drink coffee, it will be more of a tea break. With cookies.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lilly & Alex Wedding Invitation Design

It's been months now since my close friend Lilly's wedding (you can see Lilly & Alex's engagement photos here), but it was one of those beautiful events that you won't forget for some time. As a bridesmaid and the "artistic one" in our group, I was tasked with the extremely important and highly classified mission of creating and printing the wedding invitations.

Lilly had decided that the color of the wedding (apart from the obvious white) would be purple, so it was logical that the invitations would have to follow this color scheme. At first I thought that it would be nice to create a monogram / logo for the wedding like I did for my friend Dani's wedding here, and I actually came up with some pretty good designs that you can see below. They feature the first letters of their names in the Cyrillic alphabet.

However, because Lilly and Alex wanted their wedding to be elegant in a classical way, the couple and I decided to use a more timeless approach and simply have their full names arranged together in a beautiful script. Next came the actual invitation. I created three different designs as a starting point in order to be able to give the couple some food for thought and see what kinds of styles they like.

They liked both the design with the bride and groom and the delicate flowers and ribbons design, but they ended up choosing the bride and groom. I made some tweaks to the text and visuals, we decided on a Pantone color to be used, and, finally, I had a beautiful design ready for printing.

We decided on a white pearl paper, which is a standard choice for weddings, but a really elegant one. The combination between the purple color and the pearly white turned out to be sparkly and beautiful.

In addition to the invitation and envelopes, the couple decided to give the modern version of a "mixed tape" as party favors, namely a "mixed CD" with the favorite songs of the bride and the groom. I designed the CD and its packaging in the same style as the invitation, and printed it on the same pearl paper. The guests loved these party favors - they were a big hit!

As finishing touches for the wedding I also created a label for the special wedding rakia, a traditional Bulgarian fruit brandy, as well as a label for the wish book for the bride and groom that you can see below. All in all, it was an elegant affair with elegant stationary and design.

And here we are, the bridesmaids, in all of our purple glory :)

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