Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Experimenting Again

I haven't been in the mood to work on large watercolors lately. I did several last month and am one by one getting them framed in preparation for my first show in June.

I am torn between working in familiar media, colored pencil and watercolor, graphite, and trying new approaches. I loved building a shrine inspired by my mother, though a judge at a recent show just scratched his head and moved on. I enjoyed making a couple collages out of maps, though right now I don't feel I have the patience or attention span for another collage.

I have been doing 5x7" monoprints with Createx paints the past few months, excited by the possibilities of hand prints. The black cat near the barn door is an attempt at combining Createx with watercolor pencil, and I used Arches 140 lb. paper instead of the rice paper I often use. I like these prints, but can't get over the notion that the results look a little like tempra paint. This is a bit less garish than an earlier try.

I have never attempted using oil paints. I work in a small converted bedroom that serves as a studio, and have worried about fumes and a lack of space for paintings to dry. The space issue has not changed, but I think that using water soluable oil paints might work, at least later in spring when I can open a window for ventilation. Months back I bought an oil set for almost nothing at a consignment shop. The wooden box had some Grumbacher oils paints, a palette, and some brushes. I decided to try a monoprint using the old oil paint. That didn't work, since the paint had the consistency of dried glue, and in fact the tube split. But I decided to invest in a couple tubes of water soluable oil paint, and the monoprint experiments went smoothly. I tried the King penguin I've done in Createx and as a blind contour drawing. The effect was soft, probably too soft. I added watercolor pencil, and was pleased with the orange and yellow details, less pleased with the black feathers. I tried a TomBow marker and liked the result better.

I wanted to try again in another format, so I took a glass shelf out of the bathroom cabinet, rolled the paint onto the shelf and tried subtracting the image of my cat at her bowl. The effect was nice, but I liked it even better when I added some Micron pen. This is a hand print, because I don't have access to a press. Note - take off all rings before doing a hand print! They can leave a nasty mark where you want it least. My high school art teacher told me to always work on decent paper, but I don't always follow that advice. Since this was an experiment, I used newsprint, so this print won't last long. But I did learn that the oil paint doesn't smell too bad, and that it does clean up easily. Perhaps one day soon I'll have the nerve to actually try painting a landscape with my new toys.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carol's Watercolor and a Poem

Mother painted a watercolor of the farm buildings in 1948, a drive-through corn crib, the dairy barn and silo, part of the old milkhouse, when she was dating Dad. She was attending Milwaukee State Teachers College, now UWM, and had been accepted at Layton School of Art and Design, closed in 1974.  She married her high school sweetheart in 1949 and never attended art school. The scene is done on mat board, and while I know she struggled with perspective and color, the little painting captures the scene as I remember it.

Let Evening Come
Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Old Barn

Since the recent fire that destroyed the barn that had been in my family for four generations, I've been looking at the old pictures. While I understand intellectually the barns were obsolete, and in fact they didn't belong to us any more, emotionally I feel there has been death in the family, mourn being able to look across the field and see the red barn, symbol of rural Wisconsin that is passing away.

This photo shows my grandfather in the 1920s with corn he grew. He was a seed corn salesman for Simons Seeds, Walworth County family company. I believe the business was sold to Shepherd Seeds. Behind the corn stands the older, smaller barn. It had two open hay mows, great fun for a child. I'm unsure of how it was originally used, perhaps for housing horses or heifers.When I was in elementary school it was home to our Shetland/Welch stallion, a devil named Timmy.  After the dairy operation stopped in the 1960s, the smaller barn deteriorated, the roof caved in, and the boards were sold to be recycled into flooring, furniture, or something similar. This is the fate of many old barns. It's simply too expensive to repair them just for their sentimental or even historical value. Behind the smaller barn was the larger dairy barn, with an enclosed mow. This, according to my uncle, was built around 1900. It also featured huge hand-hewn beams so hard a nail couldn't be driven into them, held together with wooden pegs.

This photo shows the old wooden stanchions that held the cows for milking, also the old wooden support beams Around 1958 or so my father added on to the barn, replacing stanchions, adding more of them, adding a modern milk house and a better automated system for cleaning the barn.
This shows the addition with the up-to-date stanchions and the gutters. Not shown here is a large sunken pen for holding calves.
My clearest mental image of my dad is him doing this, milking. I picture him walking down the middle of the two rows of cows, flinging down clouds of lime to keep the barn floor fresh. I see him with a big metal scoop, distributing feed, going down each side of the aisle, giving each her share. I see him breaking light bales of straw for bedding, or heavy hay for feed, or in the milk house sinks, washing the stainless steel milking machines and hanging them to dry. Knowing the barn is forever gone feels like losing him again after more than twenty years.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Family Barn, Lost

This is a photograph of our family dairy barn from the back, taken in the 1950's. The Twin Locust Farm goes back to homesteading days in our family. This was the second barn built; an older smaller barn with an open hay mow and hand-hewn beams as torn down years ago, the old lumber sold. I spent hours and hours in the barn when I was a girl, watching Dad, throwing down hay from the mow, feeding calves.

This is the scene we saw from our front porch in the 1960s. The hay mow is open and you can see the JD baler on the left by the corn crib, the elevator, and a wagon of hay near the trees on the right. Dad didn't use those large round bales we see in farm fields now; he baled hay into rectangular bales that could be lifted by hand. Before he bought the baler that kicked hay bales into a high-sided wagon, and an elevator to lift them up into the second story of the barn. The local farmers worked together, going from place to place. Working in teams, they stacked the heavy rectangular bales on a flat wagon, and lifted them into the mow with heavy forks and a pulley system. Dad expanded the barn around 1958, with more pens, more mow space, more stanchions for a larger herd of, an upgraded attached milk house with a stainless steel refrigerated bulk tank, and a new silo. When I was in high school I would climb up to the top of the taller silo just for the stupendous view of surrounding fields and neighboring farms. In 1968 Dad sold the dairy operation and stopped using the barn.

Here is my brother, about 1961, on a tractor in front of the old milk house and the open barn door. These days my brother sells John Deere farm equipment, just as Dad did after he quit milking cows and opened an implement dealership in Whitewater.

Ralph and Dean just before the dairy herd was sold. After our father died in 1983, Mom rented out the farm house and land for a few years, then some acres were sold, and finally the house and barn went too. The family lived in the ranch-style house at the end of our long gravel driveway, where my grandparents lived first, and where my brother lives now. Grandpa kept an eye on his son's operation from the picture window in the dining room. After the place was sold, we could still see the old farm every day. No more.

My brother sent me a series of heartbreaking photos. An electrical destroyed the barn and the old milk house on Friday night. Another link to our past, and to Wisconsin's heritage of family farm barns made of wood, lost.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remembering Mary

My youngest sister Mary was born February 23, 1959. When she was a toddler we called her Tiger because she had Tiger pajamas and a favorite stuffed tiger.

Mary was a sweet natured girl, good in school. She and our brother were born less than two years apart, so they were very close.

This is Mary's graduation picture from Elkhorn High School, 1977.

This is one of the last pictures I have of my sister. The last twenty years of her life brought her many physical and emotional challenges. She died unexpectedly at home, two months after her 40th birthday, April 23, 1999. I miss her and think about her often.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Penguin and Poem

In the 1980s I spent a month in Scotland taking education classes; the University of Wisconsin rents part of a castle in Dalkeith. The place was fabulous, and only a short bus ride from Edinburgh. One of the places I enjoyed visiting when we weren't in class was the Edinburgh Zoo, where the penguins have been parading for years, long before March of the Penguins made the birds trendy. I photographed this King Penguin, and have waited years to do something with the picture. My 5x7" monoprint uses Createx paints on an acrylic plate, and is printed on Arches paper. I darkened the black parts a bit with watercolor pencils.

My Penguin
--Kenn Nesbitt

My penguin looks quite dashing
in his top hat, coat and tails,
with a cummerbund from Macy's
and a tie from Bloomingdales.

My penguin likes to party
in his dapper black tuxedo,
but whenever he goes swimming
he wears nothing but his Speedo.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


This small watercolor is of the Japanese Bridge at Janesville's Rotary Botanical Gardens, painted as an EDM challenge for "something cold", and an example of architecture. The source is a photo I took at the garden, which you can see in the previous post. I experimented with using a birthday candle as a wax resist, and the colors are all from Derwent's Graphitint watercolor pencils.

One of the most rewarding things about writing a blog is how it leads to meeting other people whose share my enthusiasms. It began last spring when I searched online for information on planning a spa day with my sister. I found someone who had done the same thing, and she was an artist who led me to the Everyday Matters Group. This diverse group of people is a marvelous resource about making art, and a tremendous source of personal inspiration and encouragement. Sharon (from both Shelfari and Everyday Matters) , sent me this "I Love You This Much Award," and I am sending it on to five more bloggers. Thanks and a big hug to each of you!

Karen's blog is the place I like to go this winter to see oil and acrylic paintings set in California. A skillful plein air painter, she is very generous with help to occasional whiners like me. I appreciate her dedication, and the fact she organizes weekly challenges for the EDM group.

Andrea's blog caught me eye early. Her distinctive style, often employing meticulous sepia pen work, always makes me catch my breath. Her artwork has a sly humor that I admire.

Anita's blog is one I always like to browse. She does lovely pencil sketches, but paintings and monoprints as well. She specializes in portraits.

Colleen's blog is one I discovered recently. She draws, paints with watercolor and acrylic and is able to create marvelously intricate views of nature.

Lin's blog is where you can go to see her watercolors celebrating nature. Lin specializes in landscapes of her native North Carolina and places she has traveled. I admire her for her dedication to daily painting, and for her unflagging support of other artists.

The participation rules are simple:
1. If you get tagged (and want to play along), write a post with links to blogs that you love
2. 2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme, created by Emila.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Playing Around

Winter is hanging on this year, making it difficult to get out of the house very much. I read, cruise online, watch old movies, and do artwork. To entertain myself and just let off a little pent up frustration, I took a series of pictures of our cat, Bucky. I tried sketching her while she lounges on my lap, and when she comes to knead, massage and tickle me in bed at night, but she is so fascinated by the moving pen and by the sound it makes on paper that I never get very far. She ignores me when I get out the camera, however.

When we brought her home from the Humane Society last spring she was a slender, big-eyed kitty, scared of every noise. Today she is a calm, stocky, plushly furred tuxedo cat who is more likely to holler for her dinner than to hide under the bed. I digress.

There is a woman on Flickr, Janey, who does wonderful line drawing of cats and dogs. I wanted to try something that had some of the whimsey and attitude that her drawings embody. I printed the photos I took of Bucky on plain paper, then did blind contour drawings from them. I looked up to place shapes like her tail and eyes, but mostly I just put a pen on paper and followed the contours of what I saw. I wasn't sure how these would turn out, so I used an old Readers Digest condensed book that I picked up free from the library. Afterward I embellished the line drawing with TomBow markers, gold around the outline, black for her dark markings. I probably could do more with that idea, but I'm sure I'll experiment more. I liked the results so much that I tore them out of the old Readers Digest and spray mounted them in one of my many unfinished sketchbooks. Each looks more like a caricature of a cat than a real kitty, but in an odd way they resemble her more than her photos do. They have Attitude.

I am pleased that these exercises turned out well, but discouraged that I like them better than drawings I slave over for hours or even days. What can I do with these things? I don't know. I suppose I can ask myself what I'll do with all the framed paintings I've produced the past couple years since I retired from teaching. I'm not sure where I am going here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Snowy Beauty

Snow is what we have most of here in Janesville. The sidewalks and roads are narrow and slippery. Driving is a real adventure, especially since it is impossible to see oncoming traffic unless one pulls out into the intersection; the piled snow blocks the driver's view. There are some prizewinning icicles hanging on neighborhood eaves. In fact, this winter has seemed more like winters I remember from when I was a child, with long cold stretches, schools closed, and mountains of plowed snow. I assumed those huge remembered piles were just me being little, but folks my parents age say no, the snows back in the 1950s really were worse than those in recent years. The Janesville Gazette says we've had 66 inches so far this season, and will easily break the record of 67 inches.  I know, some places routinely get more, but that doesn't make anyone here any happier.  More snow is forecast for tonight, which means we'll shop for groceries and lay in a stock of books and videos. I'm dreaming of the day when we'll see something more than white out the window.

Anyway, I decided to look on the bright side of things today, and post some pretty winter scenes I photographed at Rotary Botanical Gardens. It is a beautiful place in every season, even when there are no leaves or flowers. I added a link on the right side of this page, if you'd like to see more.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentines Day

Valentines Day this year in Janesville is overcast and 26 degrees. Snow blankets the ground and has narrowed our street to one lane; more is predicted for this evening. Here is my Valentine to all those folks who sweeten my days: my husband, my kitty, all those friends here "in the flesh" and those online friends who challenge and encourage me every day.

Having eaten rather a lot while we were in Texas, I am trying to stay away from sweets for a while, but I enjoyed drawing these message hearts. I'm curious, what would you have your candy hearts say, if you could choose? I'd love to hear from you.

This poem is from the
Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. I won it last month on the Midday Quiz on Wisconsin Public Radio. I'm really enjoying the artwork and the poems.

Pinball Lover
by Richard Swanson


better than you and I

knows how to

when to

tilt her

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Escaping Winter

It has been a long, cold, dark winter here in southern Wisconsin. This past week a new snowfall of around 15 inches has caused all sorts of school cancellations, traffic woes, and frayed tempers. This winter has broken all records for total snowfall, and more is on the way.

That's why I am glad we planned to be out of town. We flew to Houston, then Brownsville, Texas. Then we rented a PT Cruiser, and drove to South Padre Island. My husband likes to plan everything, and he found a wonderful bed and breakfast called the Brown Pelican Inn, shown in the picture above. It faces Laguna Madre bay, and from our second story veranda we could watch laughing gulls, brown and white pelicans, cormorants, herons and other birds. In fact, we were the only people staying there who were not dedicated birders, but everyone was friendly and helpful. The breakfasts were wonderful, served on the deck on mornings it wasn't too windy. Chris, one of the owners, served fresh fruit and juice each day, and alternated egg dishes with things like pancakes or crepes. I fell in love with her homemade orange marmalade.

We became casual birders. Really, we had no choice because there are birds everywhere. One of my favorite memories will be sitting watching the bay and seeing a heron spear a large fish. I didn't believe there was any way that bird would swallow that fish, but it did, much to the disappointment of a nearby pelican. Being by water we saw mostly shore birds and gulls, but there were lots of smaller birds I didn't recognize. At the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge we saw some rare hawks, and a green jay that was as colorful as a parrot. We also saw the biggest snake I have ever seen outside a zoo (an indigo snake), and one large alligator (pictured above). These creatures convinced me that staying on marked paths was a wise thing to do. We also saw quite a few birds close up on a boardwalk outside the SPI convention center.

We got in our share of beach combing. It looked to me as if every snowbird on the island went out each morning and paraded up and down the beach. People walked alone, in pairs and groups, with and without dogs. They rode horses and even drove on some parts of the beach. They fished in the surf and from chairs. They lounged, flew kites, and blew bubbles. One white-haired gentleman did some tai chi exercises. They collected shells, flushed out ghost crabs, built sand castles and all looked serenely happy. One morning my husband rented a bicycle and rode the beach while I found a sand dune and painted.

We got into the habit of ordering drinks by the bay, and playing Scrabble as the sun set over the water. A couple of margaritas, some shrimp nachos, and a game made the end of the day very pleasant indeed.

We did some other things, a sunset dinner on a catamaran, a movie (Atonement), visit to a group who rehabilitates injured sea turtles. We both brought books to read, and I tried to sketch or paint each day. But mostly we just relaxed and enjoyed a break from dark days and snow. I think now I'll make it to spring.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Poetry Sunday

This watercolor was inspired by a black and white snapshot I found at my favorite consignment shop. The owner laughs at me, buying pictures of people I don't know, adopting them because I like their faces, their clothing, their posture. This lady lounges on a screened in sleeping porch, surrounded by leafy trees and drenched in sunlight. In the original she wears glasses and is smoking, but I edited. I want to learn to paint light, so my goal here was to show where the sunlight struck her face and hair, the window sills, the chair. I wish I could have suggested her face with less fiddling, but that seems to be an area I need to improve upon.

by Frank Asch

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
we could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight,
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes—
I wonder how they'd feel.