Jostian Collections 4: Mermaids

As a kid, I wished I was a mermaid.  In all the pictures I’d seen, it looked like such a fun life: sitting around on rocks and messing around in the sea all day, and easily beat other mythological female role models.  I had no idea about their real job as dangerous women who lured men to their death, but why wouldn’t you want a tail?  And beautiful hair? When I told a friend at infant school that I had a “real” mermaid suit in my loft, I was gutted when she said she had one too.  I knew I was lying, but what if she wasn’t?
033I never found out, but I did continue my interest in this strange mythical creature, and have been given many wonderful objets d’art on the theme, including these three jewellery pieces.

The myth of the mermaid has many roots.  In Greek mythology they are the dreaded Sirens, in Scottish folk tales they are Selkies, or seal-women, who, like Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid, have to pay a high price to take human form.  But whether a femme fatale or a tortured soul, their image endures in folk art in many cultures.  The Victorians loved them.  Medieval church carvers loved them. Hoax mermaids still get made from monkeys and fish every now and then.

They represent danger and death, the pain of humanity, impossible love and from a feminist perspective could easily be critiqued to death.  But I think they also appeal to artists because despite being a hybrid, and a freak of nature, they make interesting and beautiful images.  As well as a whole catalogue of whimsical nonsense.

I used to make mermaid dolls by pulling the legs off plastic dolls and making them papier mache tails.  Unfortunately I can’t find my one remaining example to take a snap. But I can share my collection: a wondrous array of mermaid plaques, pictures and a Christmas decoration.

016This is a favourite, a Day of the Dead Mexican mermaid, playing a guitar.

011This one’s a bit more coy, but I reckon still having fun with those seahorses.


019These all work particularly well in the Jostified Bathroom. But I really should have painted them both with the same shade of gold.

034And this one adds beautifully to the Christmas decorations tree. She’s my most recent addition, one of Paperchase’s best in a while.

026This one is from Istanbul.  Painted on glass, it’s a (probably faux-) folk art piece, in which a mermaid actually has a snake’s head for a tail and a rose growing out of her back.  It’s brilliant – a monstrous hybrid and yet still so beautiful.  It’s in my bedroom (the bathroom has no more wall space…).

031These three are also in my bedroom.  They will obviously look better there when I decorate my room.  I love the 1950s kitsch of them, especially the madam in the middle.


005Sister Jost brought this one back for me from one of her jaunts.  Indonesia I think.  I’m glad she has wings too.  She’s lost her mirror, but that hair looks like it needs quite some work to coiffure, so luckily her comb is still at the ready.

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The Jostification Process: Another Occasional Table

I found this horrible little table by the bins on my estate and despite its hideousness, knew it would come in handy – as a plant pedestal if nothing else.

I have ended up using it as an actual occasional table, when I’m working from home. It’s a very useful extra surface for folders and stuff, but as it was so nasty to look at, I kept it hidden away in Armageddon Corner (don’t ask) when not in use.

It’s actually a hack of two other pieces of horrible furniture, and badly thought-through in terms of design (if anything heavy were placed too far near the edge, it would topple over).

I’ve had a week off work – a sanity break – and needed a creative project, so decided to Jostify the offending yet useful item.  I went for the usual black ‘n’ gold default background, but this may have to be the last otherwise everything will end up matching, and that is frankly not the Jostian way.

Plastikote works it magic so quickly, it was already beginning to look better (although it wouldn’t have taken much).  Two coats of Gloss Black and Brass did the trick.

I knew what collage motif I wanted to use.  I bought this pack of Chinese boy and girl cut outs about ten years ago and am so pleased to finally be putting them to good use.  A situation like this also helps prove my policy of keeping things for years for future unknown uses is the right way.

I just needed to trim the white borders off and decide on the right layout.

In the end I settled on this.  I glued the cutouts on with PVA as the paper was coated and therefore wouldn’t wrinkle.  I finished it off with a coat of varnish and a once-appalling piece of furniture has become quite marvellous.

So there’s no need to hide it away in Armageddon Corner any more.  It will make my life better when I’m working from home.

I will just need to remember not to place a full, open bottle of wine on it anywhere but the centre.

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The Jostification Process: A Chair in Urgent Need of Attention

The table I wrote about in my last post had the effect of putting some other bits of furniture to shame.  I picked up this horrible, yet useful dining chair about 15 years ago on a piece of waste ground in Walthamstow.

Sorry, I forgot to take a proper before photo – this is obviously when I started work on it.  When I adopted it, my intention had always been to do it up – re-upholster the seat and re-paint the prussian blue with white flecks paintwork.  Well, it took 15 years, but I finally got round to it.

I began by unscrewing the seat and disposing of the rotted foam padding.  Then, after sanding, I re-painted the wood in the same black n gold palette as the floral table, using Plastikote.  None of my furniture matches, but I thought I may as well relate this chair to the table slightly.

How much better it looked already! Why would anyone want to fleck white paint onto a blue painted chair?  In what era in the recent history of interior design was that deemed a good idea? Was it the 90s? Next I had to go down the road to get a piece of new foam cut.  I covered this in calico, using a staple gun, stapling into the seat base.  My years at art school did not go to waste: the same techniques for stretching a canvas are required.

Then I had to decide on a fabric.  I have acquired lots of gorgeous upholstery fabric scraps over the years. Either of these could have worked with neutral black n gold palette.

But both were too pink, so I went with this chenille candy striped number.

The corners aren’t perfect, I must get some tips from sister Jost who is now a proper upholsterer.  But the chair is now a pleasure to see rather than an eyesore.  It took 15 years to get round to, but in working time probably only took about 4 hours to complete. I’m still up for Jostifying more furniture, however long it takes me to feel like actually doing it.

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The Jostification Process: An Occasional Table

To prove that this blog has not officially changed its focus to Jostian gardening alone, I thought I’d better do a post on the one interior design project I have achieved this year.  Although it does relate to the gardening, being a very floral project. This poor old occasional table was once the parent of a nest of three, bought from Shelton’s department store in Peterborough in the late 1970s.  I have no idea where its offspring ended up; the family of three split up around the same time as my family did.

I’ve had it knocking around for a while, and have long been planning its eventual transformation, having often enjoyed Plasicote-ing old furniture.  I decided on decoupage, but not your classic Victoriana style. I wanted Baroque with a Chinese Laquer Influence, and ended up with a nod and a wink also to Dutch Flower Painting.

Transformation began with sanding, followed by several cotes of black gloss Plasticote paint.  Then came the Jostian necessity of gold (actually Brass) Plasticote in the old oil-based formula that is about a thousand times better than the modern acrylic based stuff, which renders supposed metallics as dull browns. Unfortunately you can’t get it any more, but look how shiny it is!

And then for the embellishments.  I had been collecting and cutting out high quality photographs of flowers, mostly from old Guardian Weekend magazines, for ages.

Once I’d amassed enough, I began the fun part: deciding on the layout.

I liked this but decided it was too overwhelming.

This worked better by leaving some black space.

This one almost made it, but in the end I decided against using the giant poppy.

It got increasingly difficult to decide; it took weeks and was getting ridiculous.  In the end I realised that it didn’t actually matter much – all the options were good, and this was the final design:

I stuck each flower cutout down with wallpaper paste (NEVER use PVA for this kind of job as it wrinkles and creates air bubbles and heartbreak.  Don’t be alarmed at the air bubbles caused by wallpaper paste – as the paper shrinks back to size, these will disappear).  Once dry, I gave it two coats of acrylic based satin varnish.

And now I use it every day. Never has a furniture item generated so much enjoyment.

I wish it was my job to make nasty old furniture look amazing.  Please give me a shout if you’d like me to Jostify anything for you.

Posted in Before and After, Creating, Interior Designing | 1 Comment

Jostian Jungle 3: Air Plants and a Succulents Garden

Creating those terraria certainly started something.  While I have been filling my homes, balconies, gardens and allotment with greenery for 20 years, since Godfrey the cheese plant (above) first came into my life, I have never got quite so into curating my plants.  After I mentioned them in my last post, I couldn’t stop thinking about air plants, so bought a starter set of three Tillandsia.

They don’t need compost, they just kind of hang out where you put them.  As long as they have free flowing air all around them, and occasional baths in and sprays of rainwater, they are fine – and look particularly fine in the new plants shrine.  All the cacti, terrarium ferns and air plants are thriving amongst the stones, shells, skull, glass bottle stoppers and miniature furniture.  (The stoppers are all that’s left of a hoard I scavenged from the an  bottle-stopper making glass foundry which exploded down the raod from where I lived in Walthamstow, many years ago. I never knew what to do with them, and am pleased they work well here).

I get the impression that air plants can easily become an obsession for collectors.  I’m not yet sure if this is going to happen to me, but I am quite smitten.

With the terraria coming along well, and the air plants displayed, there was, however, a weird gap in the display.  I realised what this might be when I found this trifle bowl in a charity shop:

And these miniature succulents in Homebase:

Please forgive me the unintentional nationalism – it is just a tray, bought many years ago when union flag-decorated goods were suspicious and in no way cool, nor indeed all over everywhere, as they unfortunately are as I write.  At the time it seemed amusing.  And now it’s too useful to get rid of.  Sorry.

Anyway, what was obviously lacking from the plant shrine was a miniature garden of succulents.  I began by placing a layer of broken crocks and gravel in the trifle bowl, filled it with compost, and added a selection of succulents.

And some pebbles to finish it off:

I think it looks rather marvellous.  I will of course have to be careful not to over water, and the garden will need attention and reconfiguration when any of the plants gets too big.  I will enjoy crossing that bridge when I get to it.

In the meantime I get to enjoy the exotic indoor garden, something I particularly appreciate as I am still at home most of the time, and still a long way from being well enough to tackle the major tasks of decorating and Jostifying my bedroom and sitting room.

A little gentle indoor gardening is just enough to keep my creative forces from atrophying completely, and I feel sure that sharing my home with 66 plants has got to be good for my recovery.

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Jostian Jungle 2: Terraria

Jostification – the process and the blog – has been on hold for a while for health reasons.  I had hoped that recovery would be a time of creativity, reflection and productivity, but frustratingly this has not been the case.  Aside from a little care given to the Hanging Gardens of Clapton – which are looking stunning this early spring –

(greenfly patrol and potting up some thyme), and directing from the sofa some loved ones in various DIY activities, I have done little more Jostifying than vaguely ponder on colour schemes for my two remaining undecorated rooms.  Watching The Umbrellas of Cherborg, I find, both helps and hinders in this regard.

However, I’m relieved to be able to report that I did eventually find inspiration in an unexpected place, and a manageable Jostification activity.  I have created some terraria and think I may have started off a new obsession.

I have been working my way through a large stack of old Guardian Weekend magazines, and amongst all the terrible fashion features and interviews with people I don’t care about, I found a few gems, including a feature on how to make gardens in receptacles, including glass jars.  I already had the three glass jars above, so only needed to get some gravel and small ferns.  I followed the layer of gravel with a layer of soil.

I combined a visit to the hospital with a trip to a posh garden centre and found some (hopefully) appropriate plants.

The advice in the article was to grow small, slow-growing plants, with a combination of heights. You just plant them, give them a little water and then put the lid on and let them get on with it.  They should not need watering, but if they get too damp, you can leave the lid off for a while.

I obviously enjoyed the opportunity to add some Iona pebbles and a broken cherub statuette. I liked combining growing plants with objects to make three unique new creations.

Unfortunately they don’t photograph very well.  Sorry about that.

This one above has a peplomia – as recommended in the Guardian feature.  I stuck a purple wandering Jew in there too – which may wander too much, we’ll have to see.

Once complete, I used these new additions to my collections as an opportunity to redisplay some other stuff. Gifts of cacti and a beautiful orchid-type plant, various stands, goblets and receptacles, along with the miniature desk and church collection box just somehow sit together perfectly with the terraria.

I’ve had the bird skull for about half my life.  Found on a beach in Scotland, it has been on display in all my homes, in various ways.  I think this is its best yet; the whole scene a kind of memento mori, a reminder of life and death and passing time.

I usually struggle with cacti – I like them but they don’t seem to like me.  I am hoping these will put up with me as they are so gorgeous in this setting.

The display is yet another secular shrine.  I had thought I’d run out of shrine-worthy surfaces, but it’s amazing how easy it is to create a new shrine if the urge is strong enough. It would also not look out of place in Paxton Gate , a marvellously silly shop I went to in San Francisco last year. Although it would need some impaled insects and odd taxidermy examples to really work there – and you’d never see these round this vegan’s flat.

The newly hung velvet curtains add a theatrical element.  Looking at this picture, I realise that although a green-fingered lady, I am entering new growing etrrain here – I don’t yet know how I’ll get on with gardens in bottles, orchids and cacti.  I was about to order some air plants – which I can see working very well here – but think I’d better take it one step at a time… I will report back.

Posted in Before and After, Collecting, Creating, Curating, Gardening, Interior Designing | 2 Comments

Christmas Decorations are for Life, Not Just for Christmas

I don’t decotrate my home for Christmas.  It can’t take much more decorating, being fully Jostified already, and I’m pretty bah humbug about the whole season anyway.  However, I do love Christmas decorations, and regard it as one of the real pleasures of being a grownup, that I can keep decorations up all year round (it epitomises being able to do what I like).

I don’t really class this is a Jostian collection, because the various Christmas decorations around my home are completely integrated into the decor.  When taking pictures for this post, I had to look really hard to spot them all.

The black and red hearts are maent to hang on spruce branches, but look much better as part of my kitchen colour scheme.  There are a few decorations in my kitchen, including this magnificent bauble:

And these birds, perching on a branch across the girder (?), which sadly don’t photograph as well, perhaps because their backdrop insn’t “sunlight” streaming through trees:

I attached the branches (of dried twisted willow) with a few cable tacks – works really well, and the birds are clip-on, so this was a satisfyingly easy bit of curation.

The other kitchen – based Christmas decorations are in Shrine Corner – shrines I find make very natural homes for festive decorations.

I love the variety: birds, hearts, chandeliers – and they are all on a completely Jostian theme.

Every year my sister gives me a Christmas decoration for my birthday.  These two, a tassel to end all tassels, and a glass chandelier, featured in The Bathroom, are both from her:

Most years I buy some for myself too.  The pink deer was last year’s:

This year, it had to be these fat pink birds.  I was very pleased to find their perfect perch, and had been wondering what to do with the hooks on this fabulous mirrorfor ages.  Killed two birds with one stone.

And any excuse, really to keep showing off the enchanted forest wallpaper.

This fella, however, only had temporary residence in my home.  He was bought for a friend of mine (a loady of exquisite taste – and a mild obsession with tiny dogs) and I had to say goodbye last weekend.  For me, this dog wasn’t for life, despite him looking bloody great in this teacup.

Posted in Catholic Tastes, Collecting, Curating, Design Appreciation, Interior Designing | 2 Comments