Thursday, January 31, 2008

Websters Third

I spend way too much time inside in the winter. I have a baseboard heater in my study, so it isn't quite so chilly in that room. The cat and I both spend time there. Yesterday I noticed this wonderful zebra stripe pattern the blinds threw on our Webster's Third International Dictionary. Nothing earth shaking here, just an interesting moment in the only warm room in the house.

That dictionary is a favorite of ours. We two English majors married back in the 1970's and decided to splurge on a huge dictionary for our new home together. A woodworking neighbor built us the stand, and there are more dictionaries on the shelves underneath. A dictionary of phrase and fable, one of puns, another of rhyming. There are book about the origins of idioms, about art, architecture, and musical terms. There is the little dictionary of portmanteau words that my husband wrote, and there is the paperback dictionary I used in high school and college with all the words I looked up highlighted in neon yellow. These days I admit I use online dictionaries most often to check my spelling or look up a word that puzzles me, but I'd never give up our collection of actual books with their colored illustrations, and annotations, and sweet associations.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Winter blooms

After a brief warmup yesterday, it reached 40 degrees here in southern Wisconsin, the forecast is for another cold front, snow and high winds. If I were a hardier Cheesehead I would have gotten outside, but instead I painted indoors. In my bedroom I have a small table loaded with potted plants. There is a bedraggled geranium that bloomed around Christmas but is now resting, a pot of golden pothos that is the hardiest plant on earth, and a new pot of delicate cyclamen. I'm used to the pink variety, but this is actually white with tips of magenta. It smells wonderful, spicy, but not sickly sweet like paperwhites or hyacinth can be.

I swore not to paint flowers this year, since nearly everyone I know is painting roses and irises in an attempt to recapture warmer and sunnier days. Delicate flowers are not my forte, and I like to be original, so I experimented. I made a pencil line drawing, then went over that with a dark violet watercolor. Then taking a cue from a Stephen Quiller book I have on color choices, I painted in the shapes, taking care to never have two identical colors or values touching. I used ultramarine, viridian, cad red, cad yellow, Winsor violet and magenta. My goal wasn't realism, but design. It's an interesting exercise, and I'm not sure this is the direction I'll go with my work. But I might try another version with a different set of colors, and maybe a less complicated line drawing. This is a cropped version of the original.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

China Doll's Head

When I was seven or eight one of our farmer neighbors plowed up this small china doll's head. Lots of things turn up on spring plowing, rocks, grubs, arrowheads, and an occasional treasure like this. Most of her dark hair is rubbed off, and of course her head broke off at the neck. I've often thought she looks serene for having been decapitated. I wonder what little girl missed her dolly? I kept her in my jewelry box for years, then stashed her in a carton of momentos and old letters. Then I forgot about her until I was digging around in the closet last week, and she popped up once more. I wanted to paint her, so I photographed the little head on my dresser and was startled to see how the edge of the embroidered dresser scarf looks like a bit of ruffled blouse.

The Lost Doll
by Charles Kingsley

I once had a sweet little doll, dears,
The prettiest doll in the world;
Her cheeks were so red and white, dears,
And her hair was so charmingly curled.
But I lost my poor little doll, dears,
As I played on the heath one day;
And I cried for her more than a week, dears,
But I never could find where she lay.

I found my poor little doll, dears,
As I played on the heath one day;
Folks say she is terribly changed, dears,
For her paint is all washed away,
And her arms trodden off by the cows, dears,
And her hair not the least bit curled;
Yet for old sake's sake, she is still, dears,
The prettiest doll in the world.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Steps, Another Painting and Poem

Steps, The Chapter House at Wells Cathedral

I'm still painting, and the Everyday Matters group is my inspiration. My reaction to the most recent challenge (Draw something with steps) was, no way. I dislike drawing architecture because I'm not particularly confident about perspective; nature and I abhor a straight line. Then I recalled a picture I took on a 1986 trip to England of the famous Chapter House steps at Wells Cathedral. I had seen a vintage photo called A Sea of Steps , very involved and lyrical, and I wanted to try my own. I also had attempted to draw the scene, but failed. Anyway, I found the snapshot, cropped it, bumped up the contrast, drew from that version, and then painted this. I like the warm and cool colors spilling down the worn steps.

Mother to Son
Langston Hughes
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lemons, a painting and a poem

Here is my most recent watercolor. It was a challenge for the Everyday Matters group, though the project turned out to be more than a quick sketch. I don't want to do anything much small for a while because I need some larger paintings for my June show at our library. A few days ago my husband brought home two lemons, and I photographed them in a Talavera bowl we bought last winter from Mexico. I like the cobalt blue of the potteryl with the bright yellow lemon peel. When I took the photo of the half sheet painting I hadn't yet added a cast shadow, and that turned out to be a blessing and a curse. The shadow added some necessary depth, but I accidentally lifted some of the dark background, making an uneven spot. Well, there you go. I'm hoping people look at the fruit and the pottery and ignore the splotch in the shadow.

A Lemon

Pablo Neruda

Out of lemon flowers
on the moonlight, love's
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree's yellow
the lemons
move down
from the tree's planetarium

Delicate merchandise!
The harbors are big with it-
for the light and the
barbarous gold.
We open
the halves
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
original juices,
irreducible, changeless,
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.

Cutting the lemon
the knife
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
aromatic facades.

So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Collage Projects

One good thing about all the snow and cold we've had here in southern Wisconsin is that I have had no inclination to go outside. That has left me time to play with my idea for using an old almanac for collage projects. These are not the moody abstract sorts of things I've seen in books and online, but something closer to puzzles. The first one of the three young men was my first try. I had a photo I took at Christmas of my nephews, and I liked the shapes their hoodies and legs made, so I decided to experiment. I used a large piece of 140 pound Arches watercolor paper, coated with gesso. I hoped that would keep the piece from buckling, but it didn't. After I applied that last piece of map, I coated the whole picture in matte acrylic varnish, let it dry, then flattened it the best I could between sheets of cardboard weighted with stacks of art books.

The self-portrait is smaller, but took longer, about four days. Instead of watercolor paper, I used a sheet of foamcore, coated with acrylic gel medium. This was a much more satisfactory base. It didn't warp, and is light. I played with a picture I took of myself on Photoshop Elements, bumping up the contrast so I could see the shadows and highlights more easily. All the little curvy shapes nearly drove me crazy. If I had to do it again, I'd make a bigger contrast between the skin tone shadows and the light brown hair. There were times when I became really and truly lost in the dark shapes near the jaw. I'm not sure I want to do a whole series of these collages, but these projects were interesting, even obsessive, and a nice change from watercolor.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More From Mammoth Composition Book

From Nora Donaldson's composition book

There were poems/song lyrics I do not know and could not find online, and I thought I would post them today. If anyone reads this and recognizes them, I'd love to know their sources.

We Love the Trees

We love the grand old trees,
With the oak their royal king,
And the maple forest queen
We to her homage bring.
And the elm with stately form
Long withstanding wind and storm
Pine low whispering to the breeze.
We love the grand old trees.

We love the grand old trees
The elder bright above the snow
The poplar straight and tall
And the weeping willow low.
Butternut and walnut too,
Basswood blooming for the bees.
O, we love the grand old trees.

We love the grand old trees
The tulip branching broad and high,
The beech with shining robe
And the birch so sweet and shy,
Aged chestnuts fair to see
Holly bright with Christmas glee,
Laurels crown for victories,
O. we love the grand old trees.

October Days (to the tune of Jingle Bells?)

All hail October days
The rarest of the year
When all the woods ablaze
Proclaiming the winter near.
Steps are quick and light
Health is in the breeze
And the color on the cheek is bright
As the color on the trees.

Rustle leaves crackle leaves
Rustle all the way
O for the ramble in the woods
On a bright October day.

The yellow pumpkins shine
Amid the shocks of corn,
And with a light divine
The hills and valleys burn.
The heart glows with delight
To live in days like these,
And the colors on the cheeks are bright
As the colors on the trees.

Wisconsin Song (to the tune of The Battle Cry of Freedom?)

Yes, we're loyal to the union,
And greet its flag with cheers,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
And we're loyal to the Badger State.
Increasing through the years,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

Wisconsin forever, hurrah, boys hurrah.
Forward's our motto, and freedom and law.
So we pledge our hands and hearts
That we'll ever loyal be,
Ever loyal be to thee, Wisconsin.

We are loyal to the boys in Blue
The living and the dead
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
For they fought the noble fight
And would perish in our stead
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

And to the hardy pioneer
We raise our song of praise
Shouting the battle cry of freedom
Will forever hold the glory
Of those old heroic days
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mammoth Composition Book

Donaldson Family of Sugar Creek Township
Nora, Sarah, Cornelius, Hawley

I recently posted some of my grandmother's diary entries from 1912. Another artifact I have from her life is one of her elementary school notebooks, a "Mammoth Composition Book" paper notebook, from the State Graded School at Millard, Wisconsin. It's funny to me, but I can imagine her there easily, since I attended the same elementary school through fourth grade, when the two room brick schoolhouse closed its doors for the last time. I haven't been able to find a year for this notebook, though her handwriting is clear enough that I'm guessing it's from at least sixth or seventh grade, so perhaps the book is from around 1902. 

All the subjects are together. There is a section on the body and its parts, complete with drawings of a cross section of a thigh bone and a colored diagram of the heart. There is a section on food and why we eat, and a drawing of a cross section of a tooth, another of a stomach. At the back there is "a grammer" with only a few parsed sentences, and a hand-drawn map of Walworth County.

By far the largest part is devoted to poems and song lyrics copied out, none attributed except for two original ones. I knew some of the poems, and was able to Google others. For example, there were familiar Stephen Foster lyrics for My Old Kentucky Home and The Old Folks At Home. She copied out Thomas Moore's poem The Last Rose of Summer and Oft in the Stilly Night were there, and Sir Henry Bishop's Home Sweet Home, and Charles Eastman's Mill May. There's an anonymous nineteenth century narrative poem called Papa's Letter. Grandma included two poems/songs I couldn't locate anywhere, something called Wisconsin Song, and another called October Days.

I wonder if all the children read these poems together, or if she chose them on her own. Did she memorize them? Did she recite them in class? I have no way of knowing. All of the poems are cringingly sentimental, and some certainly would not pass the test of political correctness. Today and tomorrow I'll share the ones which were unfamiliar to me, ending with the original poems of a child over a century ago.

Oft In The Stilly Night (
Thomas Moore)

Oft in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken,
The eyes that shone
Now dimmed and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall,
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garland's dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

Mill May (Charles Eastman)

The strawberries grow in the mowing, Mill May,
And the bob-o-link sings in the tree;
On the knolls the red clover is growing, Mill May,
Then come to the meadow with me.
We'll pick the ripe clusters among the thick grass,
On the knolls in the mowing, Mill May,
And the long afternoon together we'll pass,
Where the clover is growing, Mill May.

The sun stealing under your bonnet, Mill May,
Shall kiss a soft glow to your face,
And your lip the red berries leave on it, Mill May,
A tint that the sea-shell would grace;
The, come the ripe clusters among the deep grass
We'll pick in the mowing, Mill May,
And the long afternoon together we'll pass,
Where the clover is growing, Mill May!

Papa's Letter (anonymous)

I was sitting in my study,
Writing letters when I heard
"Please dear mama, Mary told me
Mama mustn't be disturbed.

"But I's tired of the kitty;
Want some ozzer fing to do.
Writing letters, is ou mama?
Tan't I wite a letter too?"

"Not now, darling, mama's busy;
Run and play with kitty, now."
"No, no mama, me wite letter;
Tan, if 'ou will show me how."

I would paint my darling's portrait
As his sweet eyes searched my face.
Hair of gold, eyes of azure,
Form of childish, witching grace.

But the eager face was clouded,
As I slowly shook my head,
Till I said: "I'll make a letter
Of you, darling boy, instead."

So I parted back the tresses
From his forehead high and white,
And a stamp in sport I pasted
'Mid its waves of golden light.

Then I said, "Now, little letter,
Go away and bear good news."
And I smiled as down the staircase
Clattered loud the little shoes.

Down the street the baby hastened
Till he reached the office door.
"I'se a letter, Mr. Postman;
Is there room for any more?

'Cause dis' letter's doin to papa,
Papa lives with God, 'ou know,
Mama sent me for a letter,
Do 'ou fink at I tan go?"

But the clerk in wonder answered,
"Not today, my little man."
"Den I'll find anozzer office,
'Cause I must go if I tan."

Suddenly the crowd was parted,
People fled to left, to right,
As a pair of maddened horses
At the moment dashed in sight.

No one saw the baby figure-
No one saw the golden hair,
Till a voice of frightened sweetness
Rang out on the autumn air.

'Twas too late-a moment only
Stood the beauteous vision there,
Then the little face lay lifeless
Covered o'er with golden hair.

Rev'rently they raised my darling,
Brushed away the curls of gold,
Saw the stamp upon his forehead
Growing now so icy cold.

Not a mark the face disfigured,
Showing where the hoof had trod;
But the little life had ended-
Papa's letter was with God.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Something Bright

Colors passing through us
Marge Piercy

Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.

Here is my bouquet, here is a sing
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.

Green as mint jelly, green
as a frog on a lily pad twanging,
the green of cos lettuce upright
about to bolt into opulent towers,
green as Grand Chartreuse in a clear
glass, green as wine bottles.

Blue as cornflowers, delphiniums,
bachelors’ buttons. Blue as Roquefort,
blue as Saga. Blue as still water.
Blue as the eyes of a Siamese cat.
Blue as shadows on new snow, as a spring
azure sipping from a puddle on the blacktop.

Cobalt as the midnight sky
when day has gone without a trace
and we lie in each other’s arms
eyes shut and fingers open
and all the colors of the world
pass through our bodies like strings of fire.

Friday, January 18, 2008

1912 Diary, Continued

Nora and Earl Pierce

As I type my grandmother's diary, written in my mother's neat handwriting (where is the original diary?), it occurs to me that one needs a vivid imagination to see the reality of her life, the happiness, anger, boredom. So few things seem to happen, though I know that a comment like "baked" or "did wash" meant a day of hard work. Her life seems boring to me, though I know that life in that little community was more than just work. The church was well attended, and there were social organizations with lots of meetings. I know, for example, that for years the men met at the little general store/feed mill to play sheepshead. The women seemed to spend time together with church meetings, especially the Ladies Aid Society. I don't know what the R.C.C. was. Some of the ladies mentioned here were the elders who served cake, cookies and Kool Aide to us little children at Vacation Bible School, and who organized socials after weddings and funerals. The last of them have died off in the past few years, and I sometimes went to the wakes just to hear stories.

March 1: Did Saturday work. Blizzard in evening.

March 2: Home all day. E.P. Here in evening.

March 3. Washed. Ironed. Washed windows. Changeable weather.

March 4: Went to see Lydia on business. Mended. Blacked stove. Mr. and Mrs. Weaver, Geo. , I., Lydia B., Elaine D., Earl P., Hawley and self went to Delavan in a sleigh load and had a good time.

March 5: Swept, scrubbed and dusted whole house for L.A.S.

March 6: L.A.S. here, about forty in attendance. Alma stopped to help me wash dishes, stayed to supper.

March 7: Cleaned up house. Done some washing. Went to R.C.C. at Pollards in evening.

March 8: Have a bad cold. Baked and cleaned.

March 9: Cold no better. Attended church both morning and evening. E.P. here.

March 10: Washed, ironed, cut out an everyday dress. Edna ad Mr. Dooley called.

March 11: Cleaned up in morning. Ida Kittleson came in the afternoon and we went to Tibbetts with Hawley in the evening. We went to the neighborhood meeting. It was good.

March 12: Made dress, all but finishing.

March 13: Swept upstairs and finished dress. Went to the store.

March 14: Swept downstairs. Made a night gown and lengthened gingham dress.

March 16: Went to church in morning. Weather blustery.

March 17: Washed and ironed. Went to Loomers for missionary money. Went to store and done shopping. Weather fair.

March 18: Cleaned and mended. Solicited for missionary money. Weather changed.

March 19: Sewed all day. Not feeling well. Pressed coat. Weather fine. Saw first robin.

March 20: Swept, baked cooked. Weather changeable.

March 21: Snow and blustery. Swept. Made apron. Went to R.C.C. and had a good time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

1912 Diary, Nora

Nora Belle Donaldson, 1889-1959

I've posted some of my maternal grandmother's autobiography here, but today I thought I'd share some information about my paternal grandmother, Nora Pierce. She died when I was in first grade, and while I remember her, I never knew her well. As an older lady she wasn't well, and years of hard work on the farm had transformed her from the sweet looking girl in this photograph to someone who had weathered many difficulties, whose face and body reflected her 70 years. Unlike my Grandma Tess, who lived 99 years to tell her stories, and who loved recalling the past, Nora left short diary entries of her days; a woman of few words. What follows is part of her diary from 1912, a peek into the every day life of a young farm woman. She was twenty-three years old, and wouldn't be married for six more years. Her mother died in 1906, so she would have kept house for her father and brother. What emerges is a rhythm of life very different from anything we can imagine today. She lived at a time when women did laundry by hand, had cook stoves that burned wood, had no indoor plumbing, and either walked or rode a horse to church and to visit friends. I doubt that they had a telephone yet. The E.P. referred to in these entries is Earl Pierce, whom she married in 1918.

Jan 25: tatting 50 cents, brassiere 50 cents, ribbon 7 cents, hair net 5 cents

Jan 27: Washed, called on Mrs. Olson

Jan 28: Ironed and called on Inez Weaver. Wrote to H.L.

Jan 29: Baked, mopped, mended. Called on Geo. McGrath.

Jan. 30: Swept upstairs. Called on Mrs. Rowe. Rec'd a bouquet of carnations from H.L.

Jan 31: Swept. Baked. Attended MWA banquet. Punk time.

Feb. 1: Done Saturday work. Washed hair.

Feb. 2: Went to church. E.P. called this evening.

Feb. 3: Washed. Called on Mrs. Barfoot.

Feb. 4: Ironed, mended. Baked pie.

Feb 5: Mopped. Baked cookies.

Feb. 6: Swept upstairs. Attended L.A.S. (Ladies Aid Society) at Barfoots. Ida Kittleson was here this evening.

Feb. 7: Swept and cleaned. Elaine was here. We spent the evening with Albert and Alma. E. Stayed all night.

Feb. 8: Called on Bess Morrison.

Feb. 9: Went to church. D.S.S. Edna called in afternoon, E.P. in evening.

Feb. 12: Puttered. Mopped floor.

Feb. 13: Swept upstairs. Attended a play in Delavan. Mrs. Broniba died.

Feb. 14: Swept. Went to class meeting. Walked 2 1/2 miles.

Feb. 16: Went to church and SS (Sunday School). Mr. Dooley preached for the first time since his return. Claude Bronson fell 14 feet and hurt himself quite badly. E.P. called in evening.

Feb. 17: Washed and ironed. Read.

Feb 18: Mrs. Dooley was here to supper.

Feb. 19: Cleaned house after party. Ida was here. Hawley (her brother) was invited to supper.

Feb. 21: Just sat around. Stormy.

Feb. 22: The same.

Feb. 23: Beautiful day. Went to church. E.P. called in evening.

Feb. 24: Beautiful day. Washed, ironed. Called on Mrs. Barfoot.

Feb. 25: Mended and puttered. Weather fair.

Feb. 26: Cleaned kitchen. Called on Ruby Cooper. Attended prayer program in the evening. Cloudy weather.

Feb. 27: Fair weather. Swept upstairs. Baked cookies. Mrs. Olson called.

Feb. 28: Swept downstairs. Mrs. Barfoot called. Attended R.N.A social in the evening with E.P. Had fair time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Put Down the Paintbrush...

On my computer I have a software program that lets me alter image and play with different versions of reality. When I apply filters or change colors or contrast I can always retrace my steps, and can go all the way back to the original. Save? I can decide to keep my work, or I can change my mind and go with the original version.

This half sheet watercolor is based on an old black and white photo from the 1920s. It's appealing, but the details are difficult too see, since the woman, my paternal great grandmother, was posing for a camera that had no flash. The darks all blend together, and the light colors are over exposed. Still, I thought it would be fun to try and paint her, to see how she looked in color. My first effort wasn't as successful as I had hoped it would be. I didn't like how the contrast of the dark indigo background and her light dress drew the eye there first, since I considered the triangle made by her head and elbows to be the center of interest. I was stymied, though, as to how I might change the situation.

I did something I had never done before; I basically begged for advice from an online art group. I received lots of good advice, most of which led me to want to darken the bottom half of the painting, and leave the center of interest pretty much alone. I had to get rid of some of that indigo paint though, and lifting it with a tissue was helping me slowly lose my mind. So I took drastic measures. I put the whole painting in the bath tub and I rubbed out lots of the background and chair, leaving her book and face alone. It was OK. I dulled down the background, softened the hard edges away from the center of interest, gave her face a little more color. But I did what I didn't want to do. I went one step too far with the diluted purple I was using to darken the periphery of the painting. Looking at the photos I took along the way, I see now that I added one too many layers. I like the middle version best, but there's no keyboard stroke to allow me to go back to a previous version.

Where was my good angel? the one who whispers "Put down the paintbrush. Step away from the table..."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Are We There Yet?

It's cold, gray and blah outside. What could be better to encourage indoor activities like reading and working on art?

Actually my reading these days is going slowly. I'm enjoying rereading Angle of Repose for my local book group, though I swore I wouldn't revisit this 600 page meditation on time, relationships and family history. Still when I first read it in 1997, I hadn't become as interested in my own family history with its branches of the family tree extending to the American West. I hadn't traveled to California, so the image of this place in my mind was fuzzy at best. I believe the universe sends us what we need sometimes, and right now Stegner's novel suits my interests well.

Speaking of family, I still am letting my watercolor of my great grandmother sit in the closet for a while, until I can let her out and look at her with fresh eyes. Instead, for the past couple days I've been trying something I've never done before, collage. At Christmas I cajoled my nephews into posing on the couch for a picture. They reluctantly agreed, despite the fact they would rather have been watching football or gaming downstairs. Still, they're basically good guys, willing enough to indulge their aunt.

I wanted to do something large, something bright, something that had simple shapes but intricate pattern. So, I snapped their photo, then printed it 8x10", graphed it out, and transferred it to gessoed watercolor paper. This may have been a mistake, since the heavy paper buckled. Next time I'll try illustration board. But I'm forging ahead using old maps and a discarded atlas for my material. I like the challenge of finding colors, and seeing how the patterns develop like patchwork. Actually, the process reminds me of sewing, with all the patterns drawn on tracing paper, then cut out of sections of maps. It's easier than sewing for me, though. Some places, like on their warm-up pants and the couch, I've added a thin wash of acrylic, just to let the eye rest a bit. The pattern of roads and rivers underneath still shows through, creating an interesting pattern. I like the idea that the portrait is specifically my nephews, but that the boys are general enough that they could be anyone. I'm still not sure if they'll have features later or not. I like the idea of maps and boys, because driving is so important to them, the notion of going somewhere. I imagine them in a car thinking, "Are we there yet?"

My efforts to develop my work this winter continues. I keep plugging away at different projects that have been hatching in my head, hoping to get some interesting results. Some, like Grandma's watercolor, are bumps in the road, and some are probably just side trips, but all are taking me where I want to go. I hope.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Something Sweet

I've been painting every day lately, and it doesn't always go smoothly. In particular I am working on a series of paintings based on old family photos, like the one I posted recently of my grandparents in bib overalls. I have another one that didn't work as well for me, although I think it has real potential. The newest one is of my great grandmother, who died the year before I was born. Maybe the painting isn't going well because I never met her, or maybe because it's larger than I usually work. Or maybe I just need to get some guts and go back into it and make some major changes. For me, the scariest part isn't the beginning of a painting, it's when the darned thing is getting close to done and I get frightened of messing up what I already have finished. My problem painting may just need to sit for a while, until I decide what to do.

Yesterday I decided I wanted something completely different, so I did a watercolor of the EDM (Everyday Matters) challenge. The challenge was to draw or paint something wrapped in plastic. I drove out to The Cracker Barrel and looked over their selection of old-time candy. I ended up with a Bit-O-Honey to eat, and a couple of these wrapped peppermint puffs to paint. I photographed the candies, graphed out the photo, and drew them the best I could, considering the maze of wrinkles and reflections in the cellophane wrappers. I used frisket to save some bright whites, then I painted fairly fast, with a bigger brush than I usually employ. I splattered, and worked wet for much of the basic underpainting, and tried to not get too picky with the sharper details. It's a little too abstract and wild for my husband's taste, but it was just what I needed to release some of the frustration I built up over the grandmother portrait.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lost and Found

I've had a mild case of cabin fever, so my husband and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to take a walk in Riverside Park. Out of habit, I carried my camera. As we were picking our way through the icy patches, I saw this bit of melting snow, and it struck me that it looked like the classic image of the man in the moon. I saw a profile, eye, nose, mouth, chin and beard. My husband says I have an overactive imagination. Too bad. I see what I see.

I suppose people see what they're looking for, which is why we hear about images of the Virgin Mary on tortillas and cheese sandwiches, Jesus in melting ice under the freeway. One of these images would have been nice, but the universe sends us what it wants. It wants me to see the man in the moon.

One other little oddity about this walk. About a month ago I took a similar hike in the park after a snow storm, the goal being to shoot photos of snow to use for references for painting. Along the way I lost one of my good gold hoop earrings. At least I supposed I lost it on my walk. I ransacked the house, looked in the car, nothing. My husband said I needed to go back to the park and look. Surprise, when we got out of the car at the park he spotted my missing earring under the driver's seat. It looks like I really did need to return to the park to find what I lost.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Another Poem

I hate to say it, but I miss our snow. Weather here in southern Wisconsin has been strangely warm for the beginning of January. We had rain all day yesterday, which was better than the tornadoes that struck further east. It's gloomy, with blackened rotting snowbanks. The photo is another one I took in Palmer Park recently, then manipulated with Photoshop Elements.

Desert Places
by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it—it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs,
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Poetry Sunday

I finished this watercolor of my paternal grandparents yesterday. It's 1927, because she is pregnant with her first child, my uncle Gene. I love their Depression era caps, his driving hat and her oversized newsboy cap. She must be wearing his overalls, because the cuffs are rolled. This is the only picture I ever saw of her in pants; she wears a dress in both my memory of her and the other photos I have.

I chose this poem to go with it because the field used to give up little treasures. I have a couple dozen arrowheads Grandpa collected after spring plowing, and also a china doll's head. These artifacts, along with the old photo, help me feel connected to the past.

By Shirley Buettner

While clearing the west
quarter for more cropland,
the Cat quarried
a porcelain doorknob

oystered in earth,
grained and crazed
like an historic egg,
with a screwless stem of

rusted and pitted iron.
I turn its cold white roundness
with my palm and
open the oak door

fitted with oval glass,
fretted with wood ivy,
and call my frontier neighbor.
Her voice comes distant but

clear, scolding children
in overalls
and highbutton shoes.
A bucket of fresh eggs and

a clutch of rhubarb rest
on her daisied oil-cloth.
She knew I would knock someday,
wanting in.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Twelfth Night: Random Thoughts

This is an altered photograph of snow in Palmer Park. I used a "cutout" filter on the original image, and like the results. If you click on the image you can see the detail better.

To tell the truth, the last day of Christmas has never been anything I celebrated. I know that this is traditionally a holiday for the Adoration of the Magi, and that in some places people bake Kings Cake in remembrance. The cake has a bean or a trinket baked into it for good luck. In fact, I remember tasting a King cake at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. But we're not doing any more baking for a while around here. The only way I'm observing anything traditional is that all the holiday decorations are coming down today. The douglas fir, that still smells very piney, is going to the curb, and all the glass ornaments will be packed away for another year. Really, only the cat, who loved drinking water out of the tree's base, will be sad. Having a fresh clean start should be good for all of us here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Eleventh Day of Christmas: Some Things Never Change

I'm starting to take my Christmas decorations down, bit by bit. The wreath that dried up and dropped a bag of needles on the carpet, the big centerpiece with evergreens and fruit, the tabletop tree in my bedroom. The big tree comes down tomorrow.

One thing struck me as I have been working on our archive of family photos, and that is how similar some pictures are from generation to generation. The top photo is me, and the bottom one is my youngest niece. I Googled "babies kissing mirror" and discovered that my niece and and I are not the only little ones who loved our reflections. Do all babies kiss themselves in the mirror? I'd love to know. I haven't had that urge since about 1952!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Tenth Day of Christmas: Some New Art

The thermometer nailed to the fence by the garage is so covered with snow that I could just see the news. It's zero and sunny this morning in Janesville. The forecast is for a warm up during the week, but today is another day I'm grateful to be here inside with a cup of coffee and the last inch of eggnog in the carton.

One of my biggest projects over the last year has been the scanning, cropping and restoring of thousands of family photos. Part of me here is playing historian, trying to understand the family history my mother assembled and passed on. Part is preservationist. Many of the oldest photos, some going back to 1900, are scratched or damaged by tape or water. The snapshots from the 1970's, including the candids from college and our wedding are just faded and dim. Many of the pictures are strangely off kilter, with a horizon tilt that makes the viewer a little seasick. Part of me is editor. The really terrible pictures, those so out of focus that nobody is recognizable, those unflattering ones of people's well-padded behinds or truly terrible hair, those with closed eyes, or those with a finger half way over the lens, take a fast trip to the trash can. Anyway, the end result is a pictorial history of our family and friends that I treasure.

I've been thinking about some of the photos taken before my birth in 1950. There are no candid indoor pictures, no Christmas mornings, no birthday cakes. I imagine that has to do with the development of indoor flash photography for the amateur photographer. I wanted to assemble a little book of birthday pictures, and I discovered there were none of my parents or aunts and uncles. But there are wonderful shots of people outdoors, on the farm, posing with automobiles, having picnics, fishing. All are black and white.

One of my goals is to use some of these photographs to inspire my art. This watercolor is my first attempt. The original photo is of my aunt, my mother in the center, and her dear friend Patty on the right. It was probably 1943. I think they were sunning themselves at the house in East Troy, where my grandparents lived for a few years. I love their obvious happiness, posing in their bathing suits, and their easy affection for one another. So, for a couple days, I'm abandoning snowy now for sunny then. I hope to do several more this month.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Ninth Day of Christmas: Baby It's Cold Outside

One of my goals, now that I have time to spend as I like, is to get outside and learn to enjoy winter more (I say that as I sit bundled up in flannel and wool by the computer). Our recent snow has inspired local snowman builders to get out there and sculpt. I found this smiling snow guy a block from here. Nature is sculpting too, creating giant crystal daggers in the form of icicles. These icy stalactites look like bars at the window.

In honor of winter's ice and snow I'm including the lyrics to one of my favorite winter songs. It has been recorded by all sorts of people, everyone from Dean Martin, to Bing Crosby to Rod Stewart. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" suggests at least one way to keep warm.

I really can't stay - Baby it's cold outside
I've got to go away - Baby it's cold outside
This evening has been - Been hoping that you'd drop in
So very nice - I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice
My mother will start to worry - Beautiful, what's your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor - Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I'd better scurry - Beautiful, please don't hurry
Well Maybe just one little kiss more - Put some music on while I pour

The neighbors might think - Baby, it's bad out there
Say, what's in this drink - No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how - Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell - I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell
I ought to say no, no, no, sir - Mind if I move a little closer
At least I'm gonna say that I tried - What's the sense in hurting my pride
I really can't stay - Baby don't hold out
Ahh, but it's cold outside

C'mon baby

I simply must go - Baby, it's cold outside
The answer is no - Ooh baby, it's cold outside
This welcome has been - I'm lucky that you dropped in
So nice and warm - Look out the window at that storm
My sister will be suspicious - Man, your lips look so delicious
My brother will be there at the door - Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious - Gosh your lips look delicious
Well maybe just one little kiss more - Never such a blizzard before

I've got to go home - You'll freeze to the bone out there
Say, lend me your comb - It's up to your knees out there
You've really been grand - Your eyes are like starlight now
But don't you see - How can you do this thing to me
There's bound to be talk tomorrow - Making my life long sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied - If you caught pneumonia and died
I really can't stay - Get over that old out
Ahh, but it's cold outside

Baby it's cold outside

Brr its cold...
It's cold out there
Cant you stay awhile longer baby
Well... I really shouldn't... alright

Make it worth your while baby
Ahh, do that again...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Eighth Day of Christmas: New Year Cookies

It’s a cold gray day out there, with monster icicles hanging from the eaves, and fresh snow sifting down over the already high piles made by the plows. The morning newspaper has the usual pictures of maniacs who jump into icy lakes on the first day of the new year, and articles about new year resolutions and diets. A pox on diets.

I’m keeping the same resolutions as last year. Every day play or listen to some music, get some exercise even if it’s just a walk to the library, read some, do some art, even if it's just a sketch. Try to find some beauty in every day. Be open to, even seek, new experiences. I did pretty well with these goals in 2007, so I’m sticking by them for 2008.

I’m keeping my Christmas decorations up until January 6th this year, maybe taking down a few things a day so the change isn’t too sudden and shocking. After a month of lights, greenery, and treats, it seems terrible to have it suddenly all just go away, especially when the world outside is so cold and dim. When the eggnog is gone,when the cookies are finished, they won’t be replaced until the madness returns next December, but I’m going to extend their stay at least until the twelfth day of Christmas.

I didn’t have a birthday cake this year; instead I made myself a batch of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. I thought I’d share the recipe off the bag of “white morsels.” Baking is a great way to warm up the kitchen! You can decide if you want to add the coconut. My youngest sister hated it. When she was little she called coconut “bones” and always picked it out. I like the sweetness of coconut, and think it gives the cookies a Hawaiian touch., but you can decide.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies - makes about three dozen

1 2/3 cup flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (or margarine), softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1-2 cups white chocolate chips
3/4 cup toasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 to 1 cup flaked coconut (optional, but I like it)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl cream the butter and sugars, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir the chips, nuts, and coconut into the batter. Drop by spoonful onto a cookie sheet. Bake 10 or 11 minutes. You might need to watch these so they don’t get too brown. Cool the cookies on wire racks, and enjoy.