Pastimes during the pandemic: Striking photography, pressed-flower art and virtual knit-ins on Zoom

Top: Martha Starke and one of her pressed flower note cards. Bottom: Eric Seplowitz and his rock photo "Mine Tailings."
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Top: Martha Starke and one of her pressed flower note cards. Bottom: Eric Seplowitz and his rock photo "Mine Tailings."

Categories: Life & Arts

These days there is still more time to explore new horizons or perhaps to improve skills in a favorite hobby. How about these three?

Photographer Eric Seplowitz is known for his nature picture notecards, alphabet cards for kids and personalized pictures of trains or trucks.

But about a year ago, he began taking very up-close pictures of rocks.

“I’d studied geology in college and I’ve always liked nature photography,” he said. “But I noticed that in getting close to an object you could see them from an atypical perspective. They took on a new life form. I saw a larger landscape in a smaller environment.”
Intrigued, Seplowitz, began “playing with stones.” Once he took the pictures, he enlarged them and discovered whole worlds in a huge array of colors, forms, structures.  

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“You could see how the rocks are created,” he said.

Seplowitz calls his pictures “micro-landscapes,” but the technique is called macro-photography, or the art of making things look bigger. While more professional cameras have lenses dedicated to work up close, surprisingly, even cellphones or point-and-shoot cameras have the capacity to work in a macromode or zoom level in which the picture will not get blurry. 

Beyond the type of camera one is using, however, the photographer must consider the lighting. 

“Do you want harsh lighting or light through a lampshade? An overcast sky gives diffused lighting,” Seplowitz said. “You don’t need fancy lighting. I even use flashlights. You can also use a fabric over a light which gives color to the shadows.”

What are you taking a picture of? If it’s a drop of water on a leaf, the depth between the two would be narrow and you’d only get a shot of the water and not the leaf. And use the self-timer if you need to set up the shot. Sometimes holding the camera in a delayed shot will cause movement, which will blur the picture.

But macrophotography is great fun and especially great with the kids because you don’t even need to leave home.

“It’s a wide open field,” Seplowitz said. “You can take any subject, even household items. Have a scavenger hunt for the kids to find five things in the kitchen and take a macro picture of them. Up close they look like abstract art.”

For more information on the technique, Seplowitz said there are many terrific tutorials on YouTube.

Pressing flowers


Spring is here and flowers are blooming. What better time to try pressing flowers.

“I go crazy and press as soon as they blossom,” said Martha Starke, whose business, Petal People Press, is using flowers, leaves and herbs to create exquisitely detailed whimsical designs for notecards.

Although she grows much of what she uses in her Saratoga Springs garden, she always carries a flower press when she travels, she said.

“There are no botanicals I don’t like,” she said. “My husband can’t cut the lawn until I’ve had a chance to poke around.”

While she’s been in business for 11 years, it took her some time to figure out how to make her product.

“I’ve always loved the art work, but settled on cards as they’re an easy way to share. People can then frame it,” she said.

 

Pressing flowers is an ancient craft and can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It became especially popular during Victorian times. How many of us have seen a beautiful flower, picked it and put it between the leaves of a book? But after years, it all crumbles. But pressing a flower successfully to hold its shape and color is an art.

Starke uses up to 15 presses to handle her botanicals. But anyone can use a large phone book, which flattens the flower. Leaving it undisturbed for thirty days will help whisk away the flower’s water content. When using her press, she presses the flower between two sheets of watercolor paper and always keeps each flower separate. But not all botanicals work.

“It’s all trial and error,” Starke said. “One works one year but not the next. You never know. And humidity . . . the best time is a morning after the dew is gone but before it gets hot. A nice summer morning.”

Dandelions and daisy heads are too large to flatten and the daisy’s petals shred.  Lilacs have too much water and turn brown when dried. Blue hydrangeas have too much water and some reacted to the glue she used and turned brown. Impatiens are too thin and don’t hold their color.

But violets, pansy, Johnny jump-ups are terrific as are most herbs like sage, curry, tarragon or rosemary. Starke also loves leaves, forget-me-nots, crabapple, and currently is experimenting with Eucalyptus leaves.

She uses a basic Decopage glue on good parchment paper for her original work and has up to 80 different designs. Her big tip: don’t walk by your art quickly before it’s set because the air current will upset the entire project. Starke then has her original piece copied for sale. Her work is sold in 14 states, internationally, and on her Etsy shop. For more information check her website www.petalpeoplepress.com. 

Zoom knitting

Knitting or crochet has always been a favorite pastime. What can be more comforting than to sit quietly with some needles or a hook and beautiful yarn and work on a pattern to create something special.  Until the last few months, many knitters met at local yarn stores to enjoy sharing their craft. Those meetings became virtual sessions on Zoom. 

“Our knitters have become like a family,” said Yvette Terplak, one of six owners of The Spinning Room in Altamont. “So many come to the store; so many live alone. As owners, we’d already been meeting on Zoom. So we decided to try it.”

They sent out a query and for those who didn’t know how to access Zoom, they helped people to learn how. What began with five knitters is now 12 knitters. They have their choice of Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. or on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., which has another group of about six knitters.

“We share what we’re doing; do a show and tell; get answers to questions if someone has a problem; chit-chat,” Terplak said. “The group talks and crafts much the way they’ve always done. It’s an informed knit-along.”

The store has always done at least three donation projects yearly. Currently, they’re working on the Blue Hat project called Hat Not Hate.

Promoted by Lion Brand Yarns, the blue symbolizes anti-bullying. Any shade of blue or any yarn is acceptable (specifics for size are on the store’s website at www.spinningroom.net). Deadline for submission is July 15 to the store. Donations to national schools will be in October. 

At Common Thread in Saratoga Springs, owner Doreen Kamen offers virtual knit-ins on Zoom on Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“The turnout has been very good,” Kamen said in an email. “We’d just finished a Knit-A-Long (the Massallo Shawl) . . . with over twenty knitters attending weekly Zoom meetings to ask questions and just to share knitting time and suggestions. 

“We’re also working closely with our local independent yarn dyers and designers (including Whole Knit n’ Caboodle and Fiber Me This) to help them stay in business.”

More information on several kit promotions are at www.commonthreadsaratoga.com.

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