Sunday, November 30, 2008

On the Beach in the Dominican Republic

One of the best things for us this year is that we discovered lots of new places - South Padre Island in January,  the Oregon coast in September.  Over Thanksgiving week we spent a few days in Punta Cana, a resort area as far east as you can go in the Dominican Republic.  Neither of us has family obligations here in Wisconsin, so we decided to go somewhere sunny and warm, and be thankful for the chance to be warm.

The beach here was soft and white, with very few rocks.  One resort after another lay at the edge of the sand and turquoise water.  Right after our breakfast, which included lots of tropical fruit and local coffee, we went for long walks on the sand.

At home our colors are all gone, and everything is shades of brown, black and gray (today there's white snow).  But in Punta Cana skies were cerulean, the water was bottle green, and most of the flowers were hot pink or orange.

We woke one morning to what sounded like migrating geese, but turned out to me flamingos cruising the lawns and streams for breakfast.  There also was a snowy egret and, oddly, a chicken.

Our building at the Iberostar Punta Cana resort was undergoing renovation, so one annoyance was the constant sound of buzz saws and pounding hammers.  But nothing could spoil the peaceful happiness of mornings before the workmen started, when we could look out over the grounds at the level of the tops of the palms, listening to the birds and drinking coffee on our balcony.  Paradise.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Early Thanks, and a Poem

5x7 inches, acrylic
Nora, 1928

This little painting is of my paternal grandmother, Nora Belle Donaldson Pierce.  I only knew her as an older woman, more than thirty years after this was taken.  I never saw her dressed up like this, in a hat and fur collar, and a rarely saw her smile. My uncle Gene says she worked hard, which could account for how serious she always seemed.

Having no children, no immediate family in the area, we decided to go somewhere warm for a few days, so we're off to Punta Cana.  We've never been there  before, but I suspect the beach isn't too different from other Caribbean beaches.  All I need is my passport, shorts, a swim suit, sun block, books and a sketchbook. Easy.

Before I go I want to thank all the people who have stopped by to leave comments on my blog. It means lots to me to have people take the time to look at my photos or art, to read what I post.  I thankful for each of you and the way you help me feel connected.  I'm thankful for much in my life, a good husband, decent health, time and means to do the things I love.  I'm a lucky person.  

By the way, I posted this painting at a web site called Watercolor Passion.  A man named Maury Kettell posts a water media challenge four times a year, and he posts what people send in to him there.  The current challenge is a painting done with only two pigments.  He is still taking submissions until December 31st.

The poem is for those of you who are preparing a Thanksgiving meal; I hope your families are thankful for your efforts!

For Thanksgiving I Will
by Judy Sepsey in the 2008 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

plan the meal, buy the groceries
thaw the turkey
pull out the napkins,
touch them up with the iron
choose the tablecloths, 
clean the house, move
the tables, set up the chairs,
get out the good dishes and silver,
find the candles I bought
last week, set the table,
find oven space for all
the food, turn on the oven,
change my clothes,
fidget until everyone
comes, because I started
too early and that's all
there is left to do.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November Virtual Sketch Date

6x8 inches, acrylic, with collage elements

This autumn tree, dappled with sunlight and shadow, is my second effort for the Virtual Sketch Date.  It started out to be a regular acrylic painting, but along the way it became something a little different.  My usual medium is watercolor, but I had an urge to try acrylic, because I wanted rich color and texture.  My skills with acrylic aren't wonderful, and it took me lots of adjusting to get the balance of lights and darks right.  Even then, there was too much fussy detail in the background.  So I tried something I'd heard of, but never tried.  I took out an envelope of tissue paper that I had previously coated with matt gel varnish and thinned down acrylics, intended for a different collage project, and I attached them to areas of this painting with gel medium.  This had the effect of both simplifying the background and adding texture. I also added a few leaves made from  torn paper.  Since that color had never been mixed, it was bright, and made some interesting shapes in the foliage.  I was happy with this technique, and will try it again.

If you'd like to see the original reference photo, go to the Virtual Sketch Date site.  Tomorrow there will be links to other people's interpretation of the tree.  It's interesting to me to see all the ways artists approach a challenge like this.

I can't let November 22nd pass without a quick thought about this being the anniversary of President Kennedy's death.  It's strange to me that I need to check my scrapbooks to verify the exact day my parents or grandparents died (late in March, some time in July), but this date arrives each year with an imaginary black border around it.  Of course when my friends and loved ones pass it doesn't make screaming headlines, school isn't dismissed, television doesn't cover it all day for a week.  It was cold in 1963.  My dad had gone north to hunt deer with his high school buddies, and Mom was planning to take me and my younger sisters and brother out to the Traveler Restaurant for a rare meal away from home.  I was in seventh grade, in Elsie Cooper's math class when the announcement came over the PA system, and we all were released home for the day.  Mother picked me up from the 1887 building that housed our junior high, and we drove straight to my grandparents' house to watch the news on their black and white television. We all cried, and when we went out that night for our special restaurant night, the hot beef sandwich was dust in my mouth.  Dad came home without a deer.  I'm not sure why this seems so important today.  There have been other assassinations, other screaming headlines that filled the country with horror, but that day was the one that made me truly aware of a larger world outside my small sphere.  May it never happen again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love Those Little Kitties...

Me, with one of our many farm cats, about 1953

I've always been cat lady, even when I was a little cat girl. This is me, holding one of the farm cats. There are lots of similar pictures in my photo album. Of course on a farm, cats work. They kill rodents that would overrun a farm without them. I shudder to remember how in 1966 my dad gave away all but one or two of our cats when he sold the dairy herd. Within a year he had to hire an exterminator to rid the outbuildings of rats, who fed on leftover corn and oats. My mother didn't approve of house cats those days, though when she and dad moved off the farm they did have one or two. Luckily for me I married a man who also loves cats. During our married lives we've had three, first Buster, then Sophie, now Bucky. When Sophie reached the end of her nine lives a year and a half ago (she was eighteen), we lived cat-less for a few weeks. The house was fur-free, and we traveled without preparation or guilt, but we were sad. Only a trip to the Humane Society cured the melancholy the settled on our house.

Bucky, our plush well-upholstered tuxedo cat, has been on my mind lately, also my lap, and on the bed. Now that we've had the first cat-tracking snow she knows the warmest places in the house are (1) on a lap, (2) in the bed, (3) in a patch of sun on the carpet, or (4) near a heat register. Our morning routine involves a trip to the Meow Mix bowl and then a long lap session we drink coffee and read the newspaper. At the end of the day she joins me in bed, purring happily on my stomach while I read a chapter or two before switching off the light.  She's a good kitty, loving and affectionate, and she stays off the counters (so far as I know). I want to sketch her, nothing formal or fancy. Maybe something that pays homage to my favorite cat cartoonists, Nicole Hollander who draws the Sylvia strip, Kliban (Love them little mousies, mousies what I loves to eat, bite they little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet), and Edward Gorey with his Victorian cats who lounge languidly on stacks of books, or skate on frozen ponds with knitted caps and sweaters. If anything I draw resembles these more famous pussy cats, it wouldn't  surprise me in the least.  I wonder if I could design a Christmas card...

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Cat Tracking Snow

November 17th, 2008, first cat tracking snow of the season.  Looks like the pumpkins, which are developing more character every day, are about ready to go back to Mother Earth.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Everyday Matters #34 Leaf (and a poem)

The Everyday Matters online group started by Danny Gregory has been a gift to me.  Through that group I've made virtual connections with other artists, had an opportunity to see how other they interpreted a weekly challenge, and it prompted me to look at my home and my life as source material for art.  Often seeing other people's work inspired me, and just as often it humbled me.  At first I wanted to do all the prompts (draw your shoe, draw dinner, draw some organized chaos in  your life), but filling notebooks with ideas for sketches and writing chosen by other people eventually became a chore - certainly not the goal of doing illustrated journaling.  Every day matters, and it's my job to find subjects that interest, delight, or concern me.  Now I cherry pick ideas, looking for subjects to share with others that they may also have tackled, but ignoring the ones that leave me staring stupidly into space.  I used to try to draw every day, put I've modified that.  Now I try to draw, or paint, or cut and paste, or take a good photograph every day.  

Yes I can.

At any rate, the leaf idea is an old one, but it's fall, and leaves have been an issue here.  We live on a lot in an old established part of town, full of maples, walnuts and oaks.  I call it squirrel heaven.  We built our deck around a maple, which I now know is a romantic but not practical thing to do.  In the spring its red blossoms and helicopter seeds, in the fall it's wet leaves.  So I drew one.  

Here's an autumn poem from the Wisconsin Poets Calendar I won by answering the Midday Quiz on our local public radio station.  Actually, it might inspire a good collage.

A Visit to Lands End
by Liz Hammond Rhodebeck

The rich colors of an autumn catalog
warm my eyes on a darkening afternoon;
plum and chocolate,
the words roll in my mouth
like edible stones.
I can almost feel the sureness
of the herringbone and tweed
in tones of memories,
and the deep hum of the earth,
relish the sound of houndstooth in
its sturdy complexity of olive and rose.
What else but a camel plaid
can set the world right
and promise the peaceful glow
of a scarlet wood cardigan,
knowing the storms of life are no match for wide-wale
corduroy and a bulwark navy turtleneck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mini Collages

sewing pattern tissue, wallpaper, stamping, clipped image and text, gold leaf

clipped magazine photo, clipped text, torn pieces of map

The battered carry-on travel case of paper, scissors, glue and miscellaneous art toys I dragged to my weekend workshop is back in the studio, and I found myself faced with a couple good sized collages I didn't like much.  Throwing them away seemed wasteful, but they took up lots of prime real estate. So I cut them up.

One of the collages had a fairly good-sized area I liked, so I just cropped it and put the saved image aside. "Fare thee well, we shall meet another time."  The other collage, though bright and filled with images and words that appealed to me, didn't work as a design.  So I turned it over and cut several 4x6 inch sections (post card size), and had several 2x4 inch pieces left over. This morning I started with the small pieces.  I thinned down some gesso and washed over the piece.  Then I added more: some torn map pieces, a word, an image.  Next I glazed over that with some thinned down acrylic paint.  I added some gold leaf for sparkle.  Then I added some decorative paper (part of a very old dictionary page) to the back side, and coated everything with acrylic gel medium.  I punched a hole in the top and added brown string.  Now they are still my original collage with all the elements that attracted me then, but with new elements.

I liked the idea of reworking the old collage.  By cutting from the back, the designs on the front were random, but surprisingly, they were appealing.  Each has some of the colors, words, and images that originally called out to me, but being only a fragment, it is ambiguous. By looking at each section I was able to strengthen  the design and unify it with paint glazes.  I had fun, and I am happy with how the mini-collages look.  I'll try bigger sizes later this week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

All Who Wander Are Not Lost

Sunday was the second day of my workshop, and this is a detail of a collage I completed. Some of the material came from a communal stack of magazines and stash of odds and ends, and some I had prepared in advance.  I brought envelopes filled with clipped text,  scanned family photos, sewing notions, and clippings from vintage magazines.  I also brought a small set of alphabet letters and an ink pad; there is a stamped section that says "All who wander are not lost."  I sure hope that's true.  I wanted to somehow put in the notion that my past, trips with my grandparents, Mother's sewing things, and photography all are part of my current image making.  I really like using maps, so the piece of an old Wisconsin map ties the various elements together.  

What surprised me most was how attracted I was to a vintage women's garter, the sort that held up nylon stockings.  It's right in the middle, hanging like a medal.  I have an idea for using these garters in a project, but have no idea where to find more.  They were awful, uncomfortable things that made dents in my legs, and we won't even think about the girdles from which they hung.  My guess is that most women burned them once inexpensive pantyhose became available, and of course now many women either wear long pants or go bare legged.  Still, if I can find some, I'll find a new use for them.

The instructor, a kind woman who listened well, wanted to know what each of us got from the workshop.  I learned that I need to be careful about what classes I take, and really understand the purpose of the workshop.  This time I'm certain I read my desires for learning more about working with mixed media pieces into the workshop description.  I see now that I read the course description selectively.  

I learned that time is an issue for me.  Unlike many other students, I have lots of available time to make art in that I'm not at work all day, then struggling to work in housework and appointments.  But I have a real sense of finite time, as in none of us know how much time we have left on earth.  That lends an urgency to the things that are most important to me, and it makes me impatient with whatever stands in my way.  

I also learned that I can't just take classes to be around other artists.  It's like paying people to be my friends.  I need to find other people who can challenge and inspire me, who can give me honest and compassionate feedback.  I hope I can do the same for them, whoever they are.  I think for me it has to be more than just kindred spirits I find online; it has to be a person or group of people I can meet face to face.  

I learned I need to find a way to get my artwork out of the closet (or the coffee shop) and into somewhere where it can find a new home.  I do show sometimes with the local art league, and the WRAP program, and I post images of my art online.  But I need to do more, or I will be buried under artwork.

Enough of this, I have a suitcase of materials to put away, and issues to address.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Three Cents For My Thoughts

I have a little wooden box in my treasure and junk drawer; it was a gift from my grandfather when I graduated from college.  I was puzzled at the time, because the stained cigar box is filled with old paper money and coins from the United States and places like China and South America.  I have never collected coins, but it was old and I suppose it was something of his he wanted me to have.  Who knew paper money came in such small denominations?  Recently I've been a little obsessed with scanning old family photos and paper items (letters, report cards, clippings) with the intention of somehow working them into mixed media artwork.  I've played with this idea, done experimental journal entries, little collages, anything I could think of.  

But here's the thing: I don't know what I'm doing.  So I decided to sign up for a workshop that I understood would be about creating mixed media pieces.  I may have read my desires into the description, because I just spent a day in a hot room with a dozen people doing exercises similar to those in The Artist's Way.  I liked that book, but I worked through most of the exercises, kept journals for several years, and have come to a pretty fair idea of what general direction I want to go with my art.  In a nutshell, the workshop is not what I expected, and I'm trying to make the best of it.  Thing is, right now I wish I had the money and the time instead.

So, at what point does an artist quit casting about for help and just do the work?  I have an uneasy feeling that's where I am.  Perhaps if I'd met this instructor, a good person whose work I respect,  earlier it would have been good.  But right now I just want to make art, not journal about it.  I think what I want is to find a peer group, honest people who can inspire me, advise me, challenge me.  I think I have things to offer too.  I'm just not sure where to look.

One other thought.  These illustrations by John Tenniel from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass are favorites of mine.  They come from a boxed set I've had since childhood. Coincidentally, I've been looking at magazines that feature collages, altered books, and other mixed media ideas.  These magazines are guilty pleasures; I don't want to copy other people's ideas.  Also they are fairly  transparent in the way they advertise materials that could easily break the bank.  But I look at them, and wonder if I could find creative ways to use the materials I already have on hand.  It's hard to resist all that glossy photography.

Have any of you noticed how many collages use images, often old photos, of women and children wearing tall pointy hats (dunce hats? witch hats? party hats?) or crowns?  Have you noticed how many have striped stockings?  Wings?  Looking at these old illustrations I wonder how many artists have been subconsciously - or maybe consciously - influenced by Alice and her world.

I'm going to sleep on all of this.  Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Not Everyone Ages Gracefully

The top two photos were our pumpkins on October 31st.  The bottom one shows that not even squash are immune to the ravages of time.  These babies look ready for Botox!

My husband, who isn't artistic in the sense of drawing or painting, loves carving Halloween Jack-o-lanterns, and always delights me with his designs.  This year his surprised looking pumpkin had an arrow through its cranium.  Mine just looks mean, and is getting meaner looking every day.  Could it have something to do with squirrels gnawing on its flesh?  I'd be grumpy too.

In fact I AM grumpy; it's snowing.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Saturday Scenes, Madison

We're in the middle of Indian Summer, beautiful sunny days after the first frost.  Saturday we decided to take advantage of the weather, so we drove to Madison for the farmer's market.  This scene of the capital, taken from Picnic Point across Lake Mendota, is how I think of the city.

The outdoor farmers market is almost done for the season, only one more week left to stroll around the capital building drinking coffee, snacking on bakery (I'm partial to the cherry rhubarb bars), and filling our bags with gorgeous local produce.

The vendors tend to have a lot of personality.  This man was doing a brisk business selling dried gourds.  Saturday was a day for wearing masks, since the city's Halloween FreakFest was being set up on State Street.

We decided to take a bird's eye look at the day, so we went up to the observation deck of the capital.  These are a few of the statues that surround the dome.

West Washington Avenue and part of the market stretch out beneath us.  Madison is a treasure, a place to shop, attend plays, wander through museums, and find good things to eat.  I just wanted to share a happy day in Wisconsin.