Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall Morning

I finally got out my watercolors today, after having abandoned them since the start of summer. This is a small sketch in my Moleskine, which has been neglected if not abandoned. For me summer was all about traveling, gardening, and taking my pictures to exhibits and then bringing them back home again.  But now I plan to stay home for a while, and gardening will have to do with planting bulbs and cutting back spent plants.  I did go to the garden center and get a purple mum to replace the exhausted pansies that didn't survive August heat.  

It's funny, after all the painting I did from October last year until May this year, I thought I would be able to keep the momentum going.  Now after not being very productive artistically for four months, I feel nervous about sitting down in my studio to begin again.  I have ideas, reference photos I took in summer like the one I used for the little watercolor here, but my old anxiety about doing work I like has returned.  I've temporarily lost my sense that painting is re-creation, as well as creation.  Guess I'll just have to start throwing around some paint and giving myself permission to experiment.

Fall should be a good time to get back into a routine of drawing and painting, since the season is one of transition, and the colors in nature are turning gaudy.  It's a golden time, and one that is irresistible to try to put on paper.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

WRAP State Day, Madison

Yesterday I attended the State Conference of the Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP), held on the UW Madison campus.  The program was established to encourage Wisconsin citizens with a serious interest in art, the folks who make art primarily for the love of it, rather than primarily to sell for profit.  The organization sponsors workshops throughout the state, and work that is chosen as having special merit at those workshops is eligible for a show and some awards at the State Conference.  There are a number of awards.  The photo above shows past recipients of the prestigious John Steuart Curry award, given to a person who has made great contributions to the arts, and to the WRAP organization.  Curry, who was an artist in residence at UW Madison, organized the first Rural Art Exhibit at the Memorial Union in Madison in 1940.  Today artists in the program come from both rural and urban backgrounds, though all are nonprofessional.

The day was pleasant.  Each of us received a color catalog of the works in the 2008 show, which was the best I have ever seen.  We had time to sip coffee and look at the whole exhibit of works chosen, and we could see which paintings, photographs, sculptures were recognized by this year's juror, painter Jeb Prazak.  Prazak showed us slides of  some of her own paintings, and gave the assembled group some advice:  be careful to mat your work simply; put heart into your art, and work for yourself, not for other people.  She also commented individually on works singled out for awards; one was mine.  

Here was my entry, a watercolor I called, with brilliant originality,
Two Lemons.  It's big for me, half a sheet.  I took this photo before I added a shadow under the bowl, a detail that nearly gave me a heart attack.  Some of the moisture in the dark shadow began to lift the terra cotta color of the background.  I just stopped and hoped for the best.  When I finally got the painting framed I was happy, felt it was one of my best pieces ever.  I was so proud that I entered a WRAP show in Janesville, confident that the juror would like it too.  No such luck, not even an honorable mention.  I have to admit I felt snubbed.  I entered it in a different show later in the season and it was chosen.  I know, we shouldn't paint for awards or the praise of others.  Still, I felt validated that other people liked my painting.  My head isn't too swollen yet though.  The juror's comment was that while this was a very common subject, it was done well. Why, thank you!

Here's a link to an article from Portal Wisconsin about the day.  The speaker was changed, however. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

September Sisters and the End of Summer

My sister-in-laws and I took a long weekend in Michigan and returned yesterday.  We splurged on the Lake Express ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon, then drove north to the Leelanau peninsula.  We found a nice B&B, then just drove, hiked, sampled wine and chocolate covered cherries.

Over the weekend we celebrated a birthday (not mine), and the end of summer.  This scene was from a funky general store on the Old Mission peninsula.  The folks ahead of us bought their last pasties, but I did get a cherry ice cream cone.  Even if the calendar said autumn, it felt like a summer afternoon.

Water, water everywhere.   Leland interested me because of the vintage fishing boats, which used to be common on the Great Lakes.  I took this picture from the Cove restaurant in Leland, Michigan. We had delicious whitefish dinners, and I tried one of their "Chubby Mary" drinks. Don't know what came over me; it was a bloody Mary with a smoked chub in it.  I fished the critter out, and ate it with Saltines.  It tasted OK, but not something I ever need to try again.

Our B&B was on a country road, and at night we heard coyotes yipping.  It was a comfortable old farmhouse, remodeled by the new owners who provided elegant breakfasts, and who had bookshelves stocked with novels.  I made it halfway through Julia Alvarez's Yo! and now need to get to the library to finish it.

I haven't posted  a poem in ages.  I found this one in the calendar I use as a daily journal - the 2008 Wisconsin Poets Calendar.

Last Day of Summer, by Mary L. Downs

I begged her to stay
Bought her a new swimsuit
beach umbrella and sandals
Served lunch alfresco
with champagne  Pavlova
for dessert

She thanked me as she left
for siesta  didn't tell me
that her bag was packed
that she planned to slip away
when late afternoon
melded into twilight

That she would sail off tonight
with a chevron of geese
honking its way south

Friday, September 19, 2008

Circus Wagons in Lake Geneva

I mentioned earlier in the week that part of Wrigley Drive in Lake Geneva was being closed off this week, and a selection of antique circus wagons from Baraboo's Circus World Museum was being set up for viewing this weekend.  Our local newspaper published an article by Kayla Bunge, and that's were I got the information about these particular wagons.  Because there hasn't been a circus parade in five years, the only way people can see these wagons is to travel to Baraboo.  However Lake Geneva philanthropist Richard Dreihaus arranged for this rare showing for the people of Lake Geneva.  There are about twenty wagons in Lake Geneva through this weekend, and a much larger collection in Baraboo.

This "America" wagon is actually a steam calliope, originally built in 1903 as a telescoping tableau.  It has beautifully cared and painted portraits of people from North and South America.  I liked the contrasting portraits of the man from the East with a bowler hat, and the Indian with the war bonnet on opposite sides of the wagon.  The wagon was reconfigured in 1917 as a bandwagon and to haul luggage.  In 1940 the wagon was reworked once more and refitted as a calliope.

I'm not sure about what this "Asia" tableau from 1917-18 was designed to do, perhaps haul luggage, but it makes a good companion piece to the America wagon with 16 busts featuring people of various Asian countries.  I believe originally there was also an Africa and Europe tableau wagon.

This Gaviolo organ bandwagon was playing when I took this photo. It was built in the early 1900s and is described as replicating the sound of an 80-piece band, and animated figures play instruments and dance while it plays.

I love this colorful charging tiger  ticket wagon from the Arthur Brothers circus. I didn't take notes on what year it was built.

The United States Tableau wagon was built in Ohio in 1903.  It is intended to show The United States rise as a world power.  Notice the Goddess of Liberty in the center, flanked by carvings of Native Americans.  It is all hand carved and beautifully restored.  Originally costumed riders traveled on top for parades for both Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses. 

In the past few years I've read a few books with circus themes, so I went to my Shelfari page and looked them up.  If you are not a person who is horrified by clowns, you might be interested in checking out one of these titles.

Like Water for Elephants, by Sarah Gruen
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn
Circus Fire, by Stewart O'Nan (the only nonfiction book on the list)
The Circus in Winter, by Cathy Day
The Master Butcher's Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lush and Lively Colored Pencil

Today was the last day of my four day colored pencil class with Kristy Kutch in Lake Geneva.  I cannot believe that it took me three days to complete the little graphite/colored pencil piece, but it did.  It only measures six by six inches, but I find it very difficult to be very productive during classes.  I've been trying to decide why that is.  There are distractions with all the people sitting around working and talking, but I have distractions at home too.  There's the telephone, the cat, the computer, household chores.  Certainly time is spent in class describing techniques and demonstrating with different materials, so I don't draw then. There's an hour lunch, and I'm not one to sit at my chair munching from a brown bag.   In a pleasant resort town like Lake Geneva, especially when it is as sunny and warm as it was this week, it's very difficult to sit in a lower level windowless classroom all day, especially when the lake is spangled in sunlight and a calliope is playing in a block filled with primary colored circus wagons.  I know, excuses all.  At least I was able to complete one painting.

As I mentioned before, Ms. Kutch is a personable and very generous instructor who takes a real interest in every student, novice and experienced.  If you'd like to see some of her work and read about the book she wrote, check out this site:  http://www.artshow.com/kutch

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just Step Outside...

I mentioned yesterday that I am driving to Lake Geneva every day for a colored pencil workshop. While I'm having fun, getting at least one piece completed, I hate being inside on these beautiful end-of-summer days.  The Best Western where this workshop is being held faces the lake, which today was blue and sparkling.  Right next door there is a park with a couple pieces of statuary. The one pictured above is of three graceful young women, with a fountain underneath them.  Maybe I could sketch them...

This Andy Gump.  I remember that he was vandalized a couple times when I was in high school in the 1960s, but today he stood proud and tall with a couple of admirers.  Andy is a cartoon character created around 1917 by Chicago Tribune artist Sid Smith, who lived in the resort town. Smith died in 1935, and the strip continued until 1959, but the statue, I hope will last for years to come.

Across the street on Wrigley Drive (named for the same wealthy folks who bring you chewing gum), a businessman has brought a dozen or so magnificent circus wagons to town from Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Circus World is a huge living museum, and has something like two thirds of all the historic circus wagons in the world.  I went there as a child, but since then have only seen the wagons on the Circus Train that came through Janesville a few times on the way to Milwaukee's Circus Parade.  I've never seen them so close up before, and it is a treat.  I have a series of circus wagon pictures but Blogger is being slow tonight, so they will have to wait for another time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Like a Chicken With My Head Cut Off... Old Photos, Etc.

Gene and Ralph Pierce, about 1931

I suppose my title today doesn't really go with these charming 1931 photos.  They are of my Uncle Gene, and his little brother, my father Ralph.  I called Gene recently because one of his school friends died, and I wanted to be sure he heard.  Plus I wanted to ask him more questions about the farm where both his family and mine lived.  I learned, among other things, that his mother and father, my grandparents, had telephone service before they had electricity.  They got electricity in 1936.  Imagine.  I only asked because I was looking at old photos of the farmhouse and noticed that in the ones where he and Dad were little there were no electrical lines leading into the house.  I wish he lived a little closer so I could talk to him more easily and more often.  He is in his eighties, so I feel compelled to encourage him to tell me as much as he can about growing up.  He loaned me these on the condition I return them to him.  I cannot say how excited I was to see these pictures for the first time.

Actually, getting these treasures, and my recent trip to the Northwest, sent me to writing elder cousins in Washington about my grandparents on the other side of the family.  I've been sending email pictures and comments to historical societies in Spokane and Franklin counties too. Luckily for me, people have written back and little by little my information about that branch of the family tree is increasing.  

Other than that I am taking a colored pencil class this week in Lake Geneva with a charming and generous teacher named Kristy Kutch.  I drive there and back each day, which would normally take 35 minutes, but currently is taking an hour each way because of road construction.  By the time I made it home tonight I was as tired as I have been in months. We'll see how much I get accomplished by the time the class is over on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happiness Is Sleeping In Your Own Bed

We love to travel, and now that I don't report to my classroom after Labor Day any more, we have learned that off season trips save us money and allow us to go places spontaneously.  This time we decided that since last September we enjoyed our travel to the San Juan Islands of Washington so much, that we'd try exploring Oregon.  We heard it rains there lots, so we stocked up on rain gear.  We never used it.  The eight days we spent driving in a rented convertible were filled with pine-scented sunshine.

The first few days were spent driving the coast from Astoria to Florence.  We just fell into one gorgeous scene after another, wind-swept beaches and winding roads leading up to views of grey whales spouting, sunsets and fresh seafood.  Each town had something good to offer, and the people were as congenial and helpful as a traveler could wish.
I hated leaving the coast, but our drive to Crater Lake was beautiful too.  We reserved a room at the lodge there months ago, and were astonished by the deep blue of the inactive volcano. We stayed two days, hiking and driving around the strange and beautiful world created by an eruption thousands of years ago.

My husband knew that back in the 1970s I found a picture of Timberline Lodge in a Sunset magazine, and recognized it as the building used in the movie version of Stephen King's novel The Shining.  He suggested we take a side trip up to see it, maybe have a drink.  We arrived at 3:00 PM, and rooms were available.  We couldn't resist!  The lodge makes almost no mention of The Shining, though it displays black and white photos of actors in other films shot there.  What I quickly learned is that I will remember Timberline for its breathtaking views of Mt. Hood and the wonderful craftsmanship of every square inch.  Every table, chair, bed, stool, light fixture, door, stairway, rug, drapery was made by hand.  Besides that we had one of the best meals of our life in the dining room.  I had sweet dreams even if I could imagine Jack Nicolson chasing Shelly Duvall down the corridors with an ax.

We spent the last few days driving through the Hood River area, where apples and pears were coming into season.  We bought a nice jar of Marionberry/huckleberry jam for our cat sitter, but it was confiscated by the TSA because it was a "gel" of more than three ounces.  I couldn't see overpowering anyone with a jar of jam, but there you go.  We also drove along the Columbia River gorge, and traveled a side road filled with waterfalls.  

The last day we took the train downtown to Portland, where we did a river cruise, sampled some microbrews, and whiled away several hours at Powell's bookstore.

It was a great trip, fun, exciting, surprising.  But I was getting tired, feeling overfed, and missing my own bed.  It felt good to get home.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happiness is Eighteen Different Colors

Linus may be satisfied with eighteen colors, but I can say I always wanted the really big box, the one with three tiers of Crayolas.  These days I want all the colors!  I have drawers filled with tubes of watercolor (though I'm trying to use fewer), boxes of pastels, and most of all I have lots and lots of colored pencils.

I keep my watercolor pencils out on my work area in a couple holders I concocted out of toilet paper tubes glued to a foam core base, then spray painted.  The resulting holder has served me well.  I could make an even bigger one, but I want it small enough to be portable.  The cardboard/foam core holder is lightweight, and helps me keep my watercolor pencils separated by color.  Sometimes pens, pencils, scissors and a utility knife hop in there too.

My colored pencils, mostly Albrecht Durer and Prismacolors, are kept in a zippered three-ring binder, separated by broad categories of color in zippered plastic pouches.  This sort of arrangement has the advantage of making my big collection of pencils easy to sort through quickly, and also easy to transport.  I have a workshop with Kristy Kutch coming up later this month in Lake Geneva, and I know I'll be able to take the whole lot with no fuss at all.

I know I have not posted to my blog very regularly recently, and I won't be posting at all for the next ten days.  We're flying to Oregon, renting a car, and driving the coast.  I'm hoping that the weather cooperates, and that I'll have chances to sketch.  Happy Labor Day to all.