Sheffield – Part 1: Preparations

From 9th – 12th October I spent a couple of days in Sheffield. They were my personal writer’s retreat: I booked myself into a hotel and spent my days there to write. BUT of course I carried a couple of bottles to dispatch there. I had a really good time, with walks along the river and canal, discovering little and big things on my excursions, with new ideas and trying marmite for the first time – and got a lot of writing done.

Unfortunately because I was writing anyway, I failed to write here on this blog while things were happening, which I now realise was a mistake: Packing everything I want to tell and show you into one big blogpost is just too much. So I’ll split it into two or three parts and will publish them over the next couple of days. I hope you’ll enjoy them and stick with me!

Here’s a map of the dispatches, as some kind of preview for those who are just too curious just now (and also in case a bottle is being found already). You’ll see this map again in future posts. You’ll notice that there are three kinds of markers in there: the blue ones are where I dropped off my bottles, the red ones are sightings, and the green ones are where I dropped off Peter’s bottles.

Preparations – The Bottles

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From left to right bottles numbered 102, 100, 103, 101

When I announced on facebook, and shortly after here on this blog, that I would be dispatching bottles in Sheffield, I had made 99 bottles to date, and all had been set free, none was with me in my studio to take along with me. That was because I was slightly haunted by the idea that bottle No. 100 should be somehow special, and thus had postponed actually making one for a while.

The reason why I booked my stay in Sheffield was that I was (and am) awfully clogged with work at the moment. I have so much work to do, I find no time to work! (It sounds funny but it really isn’t. I will have to seriously think about how to solve the problem, but that’s a different story.) So maybe it’s no surprise that for a good while I didn’t do anything about the lack of bottles.

Then James Ismael Kuck, also known online as Peter S. or Peter Stein send me a message, asking whether he could send me some bottles for the Sheffield dispatch. “Sure”, was my answer, “it will be a pleasure!” And I was delighted that anyone had taken notice in my plans and was happy to participate. And it put the necessary pressure on to really get going and make some bottles. (If you don’t know his blog, click on the link, and you’ll find a wonderful mix of stories about messages and bottles, ocean currents, and people who collect or make messages in bottles; most of the posts are in German but a fair bit have English summaries or translations.)

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First steps in making a rounded bathroom sink and cabinet

There are two major things I try to continuously improve for my bottles, and have not found a universal (i.e. the best) solution for: a) where and how to place my actual message and b) how to best make use of the little space I have in the bottle.

To this end, I decided to try and make a curved piece of furniture this time. I first put some polymer clay into a bottle and baked it inside. Then I took it out, it kept its shape, so that I had a bit of “wall” to work with for my model. Of course the opening on top is smaller than the curve on the inside, but I thought I took care of that and set to work. Unfortunately it turned out that the cabinet was few millimeters too wide to fit in. – I had forgotten to take the thickness of the board properly into account.

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Doesn’t fit in by a fraction of a millimeter

So I started over and made a second cabinet, just a bit smaller.

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New cabinet at the bottom is a little bit smaller

It turned out that with just a millimeter smaller, it was really hard to fit the sink in, for which I used piece of a blister pack that did not magically shrink a bit just by my willing it to. But I managed somehow, painted it, put on some decorative paper, and added a few details:

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Front view of cabinet with a sink, a toothbrush, a cup and some toilet paper at the bottom

Below is another view of it, from the back: By puttin some paper over the back, I am hiding that I had to score the board to make it fit as a round. The photo also has a matchstick (and the old cabinet) in it for size comparison. Also, the grid on my worktable is a 10mm grid.

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cabinet from top/back.

With so much work poured into that bottle, I decided that this had to be my number 100, and it is the bottle for which I wrote the accompaning letter (to be rolled up and placed beside the toilet paper) first. But I actually started the bottle No. 101 with the disinfectant bottle first.

Well, you can see by now that I have a bathroom / hospital / sanitary thing going with these bottles. That’s because I am still in the finishing steps for my artist book “346” involved. But that, too, is another story to be told at a different time and place.

closure

pencil loop closure work like this: There are two loops attached to the front over of the book, and one in the middle between the two on the back cover flap. You close the book, and the loops line up, then you push a pencil through and they all stay in place. Pull the pencil out, and you can open the book – and you have a pencil ready to write, too!

I then tought, it was time to make a miniature book again for a bottle. And I was going to pay more attention to the closure (of the book) this time. So I managed to make a teeny tiny pencil loop closure. I explained what that is above as a caption to the image. Obviously, with a book as tiny as this, I can’t put in an ordinary pencil. Instead this is a tapered and clipped toothpick, with some black painted on. I experimented with making it a real pencil that would write, but didn’t really like the result. You can see the real pencil in the picture below.

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The book is filled with images and text on (almost) all pages

I then put the book on what I thought could look like a hospital blanket and pillow, but probably it doesn’t, and put all this onto a hollow pedestal into which I put the accompaning letter. Unfortunately, as you can see in the group image above and maybe below, that placed the book and miniature scene rather close to the cork.

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Book on its bed, ready to go in the bottle

At that point I had spent the better of two days on making the bottles. I was waiting for 4 bottles from Peter, one for each day I’d spend in Sheffield. So I made the last one rather quickly, I must admit, and filled it with miniature kidney bowls.

Peter’s bottles reached me just in time the afternoon before I left. Below is the array of bottles I packed, including two empty ones for bystanders to make their own. – I am always hoping someone might join me, but unfortunately this rarely happens. More about that in my next blogpost about my Sheffield dispatches!
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99 Bottles

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My son on a beach near Palma de Mallorca in 2018

In the past couple of days or weeks, this blog gained a number of followers. I have no idea whether this is just a coincidence, or whether maybe it was featured somewhere. In any case, I would like to welcome the new readers!

Just recently, for Easter, we spent some time on Mallorca. Unfortunately, I forgot to take bottles with me. I still had three in my studio, waiting for a dispatch, and I did think of taking them. But in the general hustle of packing for four people, and organising the whole trip, I completely forgot. It was only when we came to a rest on the beach, that my thoughts went back to them. In German we say (word by word translation): I could have bitten my own arse. I felt like I seriously cheated myself here: I don’t have a bottle in the Mediterranean yet, and would have loved to drop on in. Ah well, maybe it’s not my last chance to bring a bottle to there.

Message in Bottle No. 96

Bottle No. 96 “Small World – Chocolate”

The feeling of having missed out at least kicked my bottle-making back into gear, and once I returned to my studio, I started to think and eventually make a couple: I started out with bottle No. 96, essentially using up material I still had in my miniatures box.

The real challenge was bottle No. 97: I still had some “tiled” background which I originally made for the model that goes with my artist book “346. A Journey While Staying As Still As Possible”. I wanted to use it to make a room, I briefly pondered making a toilet, but it was clear pretty much from the start that it would be a shower.

Message in Bottle No. 97

Bottle No. 97 “Small World – The Shower”

Now the first thing it needed was a drain. I tried putting on silver paint, cutting a grate from silver foiled cardstock. I realised nothing but metal really looks convincingly like metal. The moment this thought came to my head, a light went on, and I knew how I would do it.

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trying out different drains for bottle no. 97

I am pretty proud of the result.

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Drain in bottle No. 97 and 99

Next up was making up the story that would go with it. All my small world bottles have a book in them that is written like a journal entry of someone who realises that he/she is surrounded by glass walls and needs to smash them. Then I wrote the story on paper, bound it between leather – and then realised that the resulting book was nice but too big for the shower to look convincing.

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Book for Bottle No. 97

And so I made another one for the shower. Later I decided to add the first book to bottle No. 98. All done!

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Book in Bottle 98

Message in Bottle No. 98

Message in a Bottle Bo. 98 “Streets of Nottingham”

Now I couldn’t stop with No. 98, could I? And so I made another shower, using a rectangular shower cabin this time, and adding an older, mini book that I already made years ago.

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Bottle No. 99 “Lost in the Shower”

On the weekend May 12+13 I will be holding an open studio event here in Nottingham. You are very welcome to stop by and see the bottles in person!

New Bottles – Monoprints

What drives me to make new bottles more than anything is when I hear about one of them being found.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been experimenting with a new way of printing. It is a monopriting technique, that – to my knowledge – is unique. It works really well for leaves, and the bottle on the left above (No. 94) is one of the results, hand-coloured with watercolours. I hope the bottle won’t draw water, because that would wash out that colour.

The fish in the middle (No. 93) and right (No. 95) bottle were made with polymer clay in a similar fashion. Fresh, mouldable clay is being used which has to be re-shaped after each print (as it is then squished flat). The on the the right is again coloured with watercolours.

As to the other contents… Those will remain a secret until they get found.

As you can see the bottle on the right isn’t capped off by wax in that picture. That is because the sun was setting, and I wanted to get a picture quick before it was gone, and thus took the picture while the wax was melting. – It now has a waxed cotton fabric top, tied down with a piece of string. I might make some more pictures of individual bottles before I send them off. Not that a drop-off is already planned. I would like to put them into the river Thames or the sea. We’ll see.

Apples Series

new bottles

The message in a bottle bug bit me again last week when one of my bottles that I dispatched in London was found, miraculously (or not) upstream from where it was dropped. Since then I made five more bottles, which I want to show off here.

Number 88: Parcel, Book, and Apple

Message in a Bottle No. 88

Message in a Bottle No. 88, title: Parcel, Book, and Apple, by Hilke Kurzke

The design of this bottle is radically different from those before, as the scene inside is now horizontally oriented rather than with the bottle standing upright. The parcel is glued to the carpet, as well as the apple. The book is free moving (and of course not blank), which makes it hard to capture. Here is a view of it that also shows my message to the finder:

Detail of message in a bottle No. 88

Detail of Message in a Bottle No. 88, title: Parcel, Book, and Apple, by Hilke Kurzke

Number 89: Ward

Message in a Bottle No. 89

Message in a Bottle No. 89, title: Ward, by Hilke Kurzke

This bottle has – beside the message of course – a piece of linen fabric with coins stitched on. When I got intererested in embroidery two years ago (has it really been that long?!) and learned how to add little mirrors and the like, I thought it looked interesting and made this piece with rows of one and two pence pieces. I had this idea that coins were used as a ward against evil in medieval magic, but reading up on it on Wikipedia apparently it wasn’t coins in particular but any shiny objects were thought to protect from the evil eye. I though tit was an interesting thing to add to a bottle, but I am a little concerned about whether it will float. The maths say it will: I put the piece on the scales, and it was less than 100g, and although these were 90ml bottles, I believe they actually hold 100ml. So anything that weights less than 100g should make it still a floating bottle. – A test in practise will show.

Number 90: Three Letters

Message in a Bottle No. 90

Message in a Bottle No. 90, title: Three Letters, by Hilke Kurzke

Another bottle in horizontal design. This time I mounted my scene on a piece of birch veneer. The three envelopes do contain pieces of paper that can be pulled out and read. The scene also has a chocolate bar and an apple. This bottle got me started on a food theme. The letters are addressed to: Unknown fellow chocolate lover, new friend, and philosopher. And in the last latter I wrote about my thought on food as such. And it provided a theme for the contents in the next bottles as well.

Number 91

Message in a Bottle No. 91

Message in a Bottle No. 91, title: Come Eat With Me, by Hilke Kurzke

This one probably looks rather odd from this perspective. I wonder how long it will take finders to realise they are looking at the underside of a table. Normally I only show work in progress pictures once a bottle has been found, but here’s the exception of the rule. The photo below shows the table before being inserted in the bottle.
I am rather proud of the water glass, by the way. Can anyone guess what it really is? – It is a plastic bit that I had lying about which I glued onto the table.

Message in a Bottle No. 91, title: Come Eat with Me, by Hilke Kurzke

Number 92

Message in a Bottle No. 92

Message in a Bottle No. 92, title: What can I tell you?, by Hilke Kurzke

This one is rather similar to the three letters bottle. In this case, however, the letter is still outside the envelope and I added a pencil.

Some more thoughts and plans

That’s it, these were the five bottles I was going to show you. Since the dispatch into the Thames was so successful (with a rate of 1/2 found), I currently have the vague plans to go to London again in the next couple of months and have another splash there.

Bottle No. 85: Small World – Woven Chair

Message in a Bottle No. 85 Woven Chair

Message in a Bottle No. 85 Woven Chair

There is the chair again, bottled, with a book as always in this small world series. If you take a close look, you can see that there is also a miniature pencil included. And I had a new idea where to put the accompaning letter: I hollowed out a bit in the cork, and put a – miniature – scroll with the text there. Because the writing is necessarily very small on the paper, I felt a little insecure about whether it stays readable, and so decided to write the web address of this blog onto the cork. – Not so sure about the look of that. Well, I really ought to “post” those bottles to see how they will hold up to water and waves.

I am just about to book flights to Hamburg in Mai. – Maybe I’ll drop them into the river Elbe after all. Or maybe just a couple? I’ll see.

Und hier ist der Esstischstuhl noch einmal, jetzt in seiner Flasche, verkorkt und versiegelt, wie üblich in dieser Small World – Serie zusammen mit einem Minibuch. Eine neue Idee, wo ich den Beibrief unterbringen will hatte ich auch: Ich habe den Korken ein wenig ausgehöhlt und dort eine kleine Schriftrolle untergebracht. Weil die Schrift darauf notwendigerweise so klein ist, habe ich auch nochmal mit schwarzem Permanentmarker die Webadresse dieses Blogs auf den Korken geschrieben. – Da bin ich mir nicht so sicher, ob mir das gefällt. Naja, ich sollte die Flaschen wirklich auf den Weg bringen, um zu sehen, wie sie Wind, Wetter und Wellen standhalten.

Ich bin gerade dabei, einen Flug nach Hamburg zu buchen, Mitte Mai. – Vielleicht schicke ich sie auf der Elbe auf die Reise, oder zumindest einige der Flaschen.

The latest bottles and bottle design

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new banner, the ten bottles that are currently waiting for their dispatch

Hello my friends. Have you noticed the new banner on the top of the blog? In case you are reading this in a reader rather than on my website I put it on top of this post for your convenience: It is a photo with all the bottles that I currently have here in my studio. (The photo, obviously, was taken outside.) There are three new ones between them: The fifth, the third and the last from the right.

Hallo, Freunde. Der Blog hat ein neues Banner oben, – schon bemerkt? Für alle, die in einem Reader lesen, habe ich das neue Bild oben nochmal eingebunden. Das Bild zeigt die Flaschen, die bei mir auf einen Abwurf warten. Drei davon sind neu: von rechts das fünfte, dritte und letzte.

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The letter that is inside all my bottles, explaining who I am, mentioning this blog and giving my contact data

I am always changing small bits for every new bottle I make, always striving to improve some part of it. All of my bottles have a letter in them, explaining who I am and giving my contact data. In some of the bottles this letter is a bit hidden or hard to access. In the past it was often printed with the help of my computer using pigment ink (which doesn’t fade or smudge). But I turned to writing it by hand recently. – I figure that when you receive a message in a bottle, you expect something a little more personal than a letter typed out on a computer. The advantage of the computer is of course, that I can print smaller and it will still be legible (The letter was written in German and English, and often I also included it in French). With the handwritten letters I have turned to thinner paper. – I hope it will hold up well enough. And it is only in English. There are two reasons for me to hide this letter:

A) I imagine that the finder will have to decide whether to smash the bottle or otherwise disturb the scene found in the bottle, or live with not knowing where the bottle came from; especially if they treasure what they found I imagine this decision to be a rather hard one. And I like the thought of my bottle causing strong emotions and a conflict of this sort.

B) Often what makes the letter hard to reach is meant to protect it from water.

One downside of hiding the letter is, of course, that a finder might not contact me simply because they decided they didn’t want to access this letter.

Bei jeder Flasche, die ich mache oder versigele ändere ich Kleinigkeiten, von denen ich hoffe, dass sie die Flasche besser machen. Alle meine Flaschen haben einen Beibrief, in dem steht, wer ich bin, der über das Projekt Flaschenpost informiert und meine Kontaktdaten enthält. Bis vor kurzem habe ich den Brief (in mehreren Spachen, meiste deutsch und english, oft auch noch französisch) mit dem Computer geschrieben und mit pigmenthaltiger Tinte ausgedruckt. Die ist lichtecht und wasserfest. In letzter Zeit bin ich allerdings eher zu handgeschriebenen Briefen übergegangen, weil ich mir denke, dass wenn man schon eine Flaschenpost findet, vielleicht lieber etwas persönlicheres als einen computergeschriebenen Brief finden möchte.
Der Vorteil vom Schreiben mit dem Computer ist natürlich, dass ich kleiner und dabei trotzdem leserlich schreiben kann. Meinen handschriftlichen Brief gibt’s nur auf Englisch und auf einem dünneren Papier, damit er noch gut in die Flasche passt. Ich hoffe, das Papier hält der Belastung stand.

Es gibt zwei Gründe, warum ich diesen Beibrief manchmal verstecke oder zumindest schwer zugänglich mache:

A) Ich stelle mir vor, dass die versteckten Briefe den Finder vor ein Problem stellen: Soll er die Flasche zuschlagen oder die Szene, die er in der Flasche vorfindet anderweitig zerstören? Oder damit leben, dass er nicht weiß, wer die Flasche unter welchen Umständen gemacht und eingeworfen hat? Ich stelle mir vor dass, gerade wenn man die Flasche mag, das einen vor einen Konflikt stellt, der nicht einfach ist. Und mir gefällt der Gedanke, dass meine Flasche jemanden so stark beschäftigt und Emotionen weckt.

B) Das Versteckt schützt den Brief manchmal vielleicht vor eindringendem Wasser.

Der Nachteil ist natürlich, dass ein Finder mich vielleicht nicht kontaktiert, weil er sich entscheidet, den Brief lieber nicht rauszuholen.

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message in a bottle No. 82 “Small World – Apple Tree”; the accompaning letter is hidden in a clay-sealed base; in the main chamber: a miniature basket with miniature apples (all glued into place) and free moving a miniature book and pencil.

Above you see message No. 82, the latest in the small world series. I think the series will come to an end soon. There are still ideas and plans for more bottles, and there is no plan as such to end it. But I feel a certain pull of my heart in a new direction.

I had hoped to exhibit all my small world bottles together at some point. But one of them is already in Swansea, I don’t really see an opportunity for that at the moment (if you would like to exhibit them, or have a suggestion for a venue I would love to hear about it!), and at the same time I feel an increasing wish to set them afloat.
It is my birthday next weekend, and I know that M. will invite me to a weekend somewhere (to eat Dim Sum served with carts – I am so looking forward to this!). I guess there will be water somewhere nearby, it will be in England, after all. I will be 40, my kids who are somewhat responsible for me starting this project are 4, it will be four of us who are there. So throwing out 4 bottles seems like a fitting thing to do. And since I only have 3 that are not “small world” bottles, I will set at least one of them afloat. – Any opinions which one it should be?

Oben ist Flasche Nr. 82 zu sehen. Der Titel ist “Small World – Apple Tree” oder auf deutsch “kleine Welt – Apfelbaum”. Ich glaube, diese kleine-Welt-Serie wird bald zu Ende sein. Es ist nicht so, als ob es Pläne gäbe, damit aufzuhören – ich habe im Gegenteil noch Ideen und Pläne für einige mehr. Aber ich fühle zunehmend den Drang, weiterzugehen und was neues zu machen.

Ich hatte eigentlich gehofft, diese Flaschen nochmal alle zusammen auszustellen bevor ich sie dem Wasser übergebe. Aber eine davon ist jetzt schon in Swansea., ich habe nicht wirklich etwas in Aussicht, wo ich sie unterbringen könnte (wenn du sie ausstellen willst, oder von einem geeigneten Ausstellungsort weißt, würde ich gerne davon hören!), und ich spüre zunehmend den Wunsch, sie endlich auf die Reise zu schicken.
Nächstes Wochenende ist mein Geburtstag. Ich werde 40, meine Kinder sind 4, wir werden zu viert sein. – Sehr passend also 4 Flaschen abzuwerfen. Gibt es Meinungen dazu, welche vier es sein sollten?

Unten ist Flaschenpost Nr. 83 zu sehen – relativ minimalistisch nach den kleinen Welten mit ihren Miniaturen. Ich will nicht zu viel verraten. Verwendete Materialien sind unter anderem: Ziegenleder, Pergament (echtes Pergament, nicht Pergamentpapier), Goldimitation, Leinenzwirn.
Wie man sehen kann, habe ich den Verschluss hier etwas abgewandelt: Erst habe ich die Flasche verkorkt wie üblich. Ich wünschte, ich hätte nochmal Siegelwachs auf die Nahtstelle zwischen Korken und Glas gemacht, aber das habe ich vergessen. Dann habe ich mit Leinenzwirn den ganzen Deckel eng umwoben (habe ich beim mini-korbmachen gelernt). Dann das Ganze in Bienenwachs getaucht. Die Flechtung saugt sich mit Wachs voll und hält es fest, so dass es eine recht dicke und hoffentlich stabile Kappe ergibt. – Ich bin gespannt, was die “Experten” hier davon halten!

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Message No. 83 “Make your mark”

Above you see bottle number 83. Comparably minimalistic compared to the small worlds, but did require some work. I don’t want to give away too much before it is found as usual. Materials used: leather, cardboard, parchment (animal skin, not paper), paper, imitation gold leaf, linen thread, copper, acrylics and cork, fat and beeswax. If you look closely you’ll see that I tried a variation for the closure: I first sealed it with a cork as usual. I wish I had treated the seam between cork and glass with sealing wax but I forgot. I then wove linen thread all around the cap and dipped the bottle in beeswax. The linen weave holds wax and therefore ensures an even and thick coating. I’ll be curious to know what the “experts” think of this idea.

And below is message number 84 “fish spoon” because, as you can see, it contains a wooden spoon with a fish drawn onto it. Materials: leather, cardboard, parchment, linen thread, paper, imitation gold leaf, wood, acrylics, pigment ink, shell, cotton rope, and of course cork, fat, and sealing wax.

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Message No. 84: Fish Spoon

Flaschenpost Nr. 84 ist eben zu sehen. Ein klar erkennbarer Verwandter von Flasche Nr. 83: beide enthalten den Beibrief als Schriftrolle in einer Lederhülle, die mit Goldfolie belegt ist. Materialien auch hier: Leder, Imitationsgoldfolie, ein Holzlöffel, eine Muschel, Baumwollkordel, Pergament…

Zum Schluss noch ein paar Bilder mehr von den Flaschen:

I am closing with some more images of the bottles:

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Message No. 82 “Small World – Apple Tree” The sealing wax is slightly burned and left black swirls in the cap. Purist will say I was holding the stick at an unfortunate angle, but I rather like it this way

Small World - Apple Trees (No. 82)

bottle no. 82 Small World – Apple Tree (still unsealed to let light in from the top for the photo)

Message in a Bottle No. 83

Bottle No. 83 “Make your Mark” – Would you pick it up?

Message in a Bottle No. 84

Bottle No. 84 “Fish Spoon” – captured on a hilly morning with the first rays of sunshine reflecting from the glass

May I introduce…

Message in A Bottle No. 79

Message in a Bottle No. 79 – “Small World: The Deckchair”

… my newest message in a bottle! Apparently I am caught in a miniature frenzy 🙂 My usual letter is hidden in the base this time:

Darf ich vorstellen…? – Meine neueste Flaschenpost. Mich scheint das Miniaturenfieber gepackt zu haben 🙂 Meine übliche Botschaft ist diesmal im Sockel versteckt:

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