Friday, February 27, 2009

February Virtual Sketch Date, Lake Louise

It's time for the February Virtual Sketch Date.  This time the source photo was a beauty shot by Debbie Later of Lake Louise at Banff.  I decided to alter the photograph by cropping it, flipping it to put the darkest slope on the right, and altering the local color.  Then I graphed out the result and copied it onto a newsprint planning sheet.

I transferred the plan onto a piece of mat board, then selected and prepared papers in the shades of blue, lavender, and violet I wanted.  I use acrylic medium as my glue, and I like to spread the medium on my paper using an old telephone book to catch the extra adhesive.  These old books are a great substitute for more expensive paper towels.  Notice the tub of water.  I put my brushes in when they are not needed so that the medium doesn't dry on them and wreck the bristles.  The right side of the image done here.

I just keep looking for colors in my envelopes of colors cut from magazine ads and catalogs, and also other papers that I tint with thinned acrylic paint.  I work from the outside toward the middle, checking back every so often to see if the balance of lights and darks is what I want.

It's almost finished in this photograph.  I had some trouble with the second slope back on the right.  The lights and darks looked too much like separate patches, not unified.  Then I decided to use tinted tissue paper over that part to pull it all together.  You can see the original version of the scene at the top left here.

This is the finished collage. My husband says I should call it Purple Mountains Majesty, but I was thinking The Hills Are Alive, since I used some sheet music.  A little bit of the right side was cropped on my scanner, but overall this is a fair representation of the finished project.  The actual image is 12 inches by 4.5 inches. I enjoy the challenge of using a source photo, then making the resulting image something uniquely mine.  Thanks to the Virtual Sketch Date folks for all the work they do to organize this challenge.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Pretty Good Day

me, a high school senior, 1969 Play Day
I won the bubble gum bubble blowing contest - a skill my students never suspected I possess

I've been having a case of the late winter blues lately, not getting a whole lot of art I like accomplished, bogging down in reading I need to finish for my neighborhood reading group, and missing seeing folks in general.  Then yesterday my friend, the forensics coach from the rival high school across town, called me to judge for her.  I liked coaching forensics (competitive public speaking, not dead folks) before I hung up my gradebook program, and getting out of the house seemed like a Very Good Thing, so I said yes.

I was a nervous, because for me being retired means I can take all morning to drink half decaf coffee, read, and do my hair or a load of laundry.  One or the other, not both. In my teaching life I was up early, often at school at 7:00 a.m. to prepare for my classes or to hear kids rehearse their speeches.  I've slowed down considerably - would I be able to keep up? These speech contests are fast and furious, full of nervous kids and harried coaches, and paperwork that has to be completed accurately and quickly.  When I did this full time I was always stoked with caffeine.  I hadn't judged in almost a year.  Would I remember all the fine points?  Would my comments be helpful to the students and their coaches?  I dusted off my stopwatch and found two pens, just in case one failed mid-critique.  I was on my way.

It turned out fine, better than fine.  I liked seeing coaches I knew, and was glad all I had to worry about was judging, not about tearful students, late buses, or icy roads.  I was tickled to judge a boy who I had in class as a freshman my last year of teaching.  A senior now, he is currently about six and a half feet in height, and greeted me with a grin.  I had been his favorite teacher, he said, even though I gave him a low grade in English that year.  It doesn't take much I guess, because that comment made my day, and I don't think he said it because I was about to judge his performance (a demonstration of some funky dancing).  He thanked me later, and I went home wearing a smile.  And I didn't have to get up early this morning. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mary Would Be Fifty

      Mary Carol Pierce, about 1960

When Mom or Grandma would get out old pictures and tell stories I used to be impatient, but here I am doing the same thing.  Yesterday my youngest sister Mary would have been fifty.  She died unexpectedly two weeks after her 40th birthday, so it has been nearly ten years.  She was a tender soul whose physical and emotional frailties prevented her from doing many ordinary things.  She had jobs, but never a career.  She loved children but never married. She loved the ocean but never saw it in person.  Some time around her birthday she called me on the telephone.  I wasn't home, so her message was left on tape. It still is, somewhere in a drawer. She wanted us to get together, do something as sisters.  I was busy - really busy - with teaching, coaching, heavens knows what.  I meant to call her, should have called her.  But I didn't call her back in time.  It is one of the great regrets of my life, and I hope she forgave me.

Regret of course, is a useless thing.  All I can do now is honor  her memory and hope I learned the great lesson she taught me about impermanence, and about how important it is to get one's priorities in order.  All I can do is live life as well as I can, work on what's important to me, and remember to put the  people I love first.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Drawing from a Snowy Saturday

5 x 6.5 inches graphite
Nellie and L.D. Smith, Franklin County, Washington

It's another snowy day in southern Wisconsin.  Almost all our snow had melted, but once more we have another six inches, and the sounds of snow plows and blowers fill the dim afternoon. We're not going out today, so it's a good day to draw.  If you have been reading this blog for the past couple years you know that I have been working on putting together as many photographs and details as I can about my family history.  This drawing is a detail from a small black and white photo my grandmother had.

The richest source for historical material is my maternal grandmother, Bernice Adams Tess.   She spoke often of growing up on a ranch in Washington, not always fondly.  She moved there with her mother, Nellie Hodgson Adams Smith, when Nellie took a job as a housekeeper/cook on the Smith ranch.  Nellie had divorced her first husband, Len Adams, who later was killed. Eventually Nellie married the manager of the ranch, the well-to-do son of a Spokane businessman.  L.D. Smith, is the man I remember as my great grandfather.  He became an orthopedic surgeon and taught at Marquette University.  He and Nellie eventually divorced, but I remember him as a jovial white-haired man who dressed in suits, and brought me a doll and a silver cup. Both Bernice and Nellie are buried in Elkhorn, where I grew up.  LD is buried in New York, where he and his family originally came from.

This May my sister-in-law and I are taking an Amtrak trip to Washington state, and I hope to see the places my grandmother lived, including Franklin County.  I think that area, near Mesa, is more of a wine growing area these days.  I know I mentioned before that there was no school near the ranch, so Grandma boarded out with a family in Hanford, across the Columbia River, and attended a one room school there.  That entire area was taken over by the government in World War II as part of the Manhattan Project, so I won't be seeing anything there, but I hope to go through a local museum to learn more about the nuclear reservation.  It seems odd to me that she never mentioned what became of Hanford, and that I'm only learning about it now.  I'm looking forward to the trip very much.

original photograph

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


 gouache on illustration board, painted by my mother, 1947?

What felt like cozy cocooning, settling in with a cup of hot chocolate, some books and movies on DVD, and a stash of art supplies back in December is starting to feel like cabin fever.  My sloppy sweatpants and bulky sweater are hiding a shape that I don't want to think about.  My artwork seems to be stalled out.  My employed friends are overwhelmed with their jobs and families, and my retired friends are either busy volunteering or are away somewhere warm. The plumbing has been misbehaving, and the Saturn has been suffering aches and pains of old age; we have been enriching the local economy with money paid out for repairs.  Television and the news - forget about it. I've been thumbing through magazines and thinking that none of the people pictured in them look like anyone I know, but rather like like some other fitter, younger species.  The winter of our discontent is here, and more snow is forecast tonight.

I'm trying exit this state of blah.  I'm planning a train trip to Washington state in May, partially to do some family history research.  I've been to the athletic club most days the past two weeks. I cashed in my birthday gift certificate for a pedicure today, so my toes are adorable and very cold.  I matted three watercolors for an upcoming art exchange, though I wish my paintings were fresher, more original.  I've been doing a personal visual journal, though it feels a little like navel gazing.  I'm certainly not posting anything from that in public. Mostly I've been spending too much time on line, trying to see what other people are creating, or what they're reading. Got to stop that.  

OK, I'm done whining.  I know my moods are tied to the seasons.  Just for fun, take the little quiz on the link below.

Your rainbow is shaded green.

What is says about you: You are an intelligent person. You feel strong ties to nature and your mood changes with its cycles. Those around you admire your fresh outlook and vitality.

Find the colors of your rainbow at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Make a Valentine

1920s Valentine

Today a gift.  If you copy this image and print it out, you can mount it on card stock.  Then carefully cut out both pieces.  Use a tiny brad to attach the arms and the iron to the girl's body. The arm on the right side goes behind her.  The arms should swing back and forth as if she is pressing something.  You could attach a piece of card stock to the back so she stands up.

It has been a frustrating day here. Our car developed some nasty ailments and had to stay over night at the dealer.  This cost us lots and lots of cash.  Then I tried to make chocolate truffles for my sweetie for Valentines day.  Not a success.  The little broken bits of chocolate taste good, but my imagined plate of cute little round truffles isn't going to happen.  Maybe I can melt them and make chocolate sauce.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1924 Violet Postcard and Poem

1924 postcard

Today we had a thaw, and most of the snow banks disappeared for the first time since Thanksgiving.  I went out without a coat, and nearly shouted with happiness.  This little poem was probably written for children, but just thinking about colors after all the gray and white around here made me smile.

by Christina Rossetti

What is pink? a rose is pink
By a fountain's brink.
What is red? a poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro'
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why an orange,
Just an orange!

Monday, February 9, 2009

One Hundred Songs for Valentines

Valentine postcard from my local consignment shop, postmarked 1910

I like to make playlists for upcoming holidays, so here are 100 eclectic songs currently on my Valentines playlist.  I'd love to know what else you would include.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye
All You Need is Love, The Beatles
Baby I Need Your Loving, Four Tops
Back Home to Me, Sophie Milman
Besame Mucho, Diana Krall
The Best is Yet to Come, Frank Sinatra
Calling You, Stanley Turrentine
Can't Help Falling in Love, Elvis Presley
Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Frankie Valli
Circlesong Three, Bobby McFerrin
Corazon, Asere
Crazy, Patsy Cline
Cupid, Sam Cooke
Dedicated to the One I Love, The Mamas and the Papas
Do I Love You? Jane Monhoit
Don't Know Why, Norah Jones
Dos Gardenias, Buena Vista Social Club
Dream, Brad Mehldau
Easy to Love, Charlie Parker
Embraceable You, Judy Garland
Everything I have is Yours, Rossana Casale
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Solomon Burke
Face of Love, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
February Sea, George Winston
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack
Fix You, Coldplay
Fly Me to the Moon, Frank Sinatra
For Your Precious Love, Jerry Butler
Goodnight My Love, Sarah Vaughn
Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? The Chieftains
Heart Asks Pleasure First, Ahn Trio
Heart Full of Soul, The Yardbirds
Heart Like a Wheel, Anna McGarrigle
Here, There, and Everywhere, The Beatles
How Deep is Your Love?, The Bee Gees
I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Baby, Ella Fitzgerald
I Can't Stop Loving You, Ray Charles
I Got You Babe, Sonny and Cher
I Hear Music, Daniel Martin Moore
I Just Called to Say I Love You, Stevie Wonder
I Just Want to Make Love to You, Muddy Waters
I Never Loved a Man The Way That I Love You, Aretha Franklin 
I Only Have Eyes for You, The Flamingos
I'm Getting Sentimental Over You, Ella Fitzgerald
I've Been Loving You Too Long, Otis Redding
I've Got You Under My Skin, Diana Krall
In My Life, The Beatles
Julia, The Beatles
Killing the Blues, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss
La Valse d'Amelie, Yann Tierson
Let Me Be the One, Jaguar Wright
Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye
Let's Get It Started, Black Eyed Peas
Let's Stay Together, Al Green
Light My Fire, Jose Feliciano
The Look of Love, Dusty Springfield
Love and Happiness, Al Green
Love Letter, Bonnie Raitt
Love Me Do, The Beatles
Love Train, The O'Jays
Lovefool, The Cardigans
Loves Me Like a Rock, Paul Simon
Lovetown, Peter Gabriel
Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac, Ahn Trio
Makin' Whoopee, Lucky Lucy Ann
A Man and a Woman, Charlie Byrd
My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker
My Romance, Carly Simon
Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt
Night and Day, Frank Sinatra
Night Moves, Bob Seger
Old Love, Eric Clapton
One Love, Bob Marley
Please Send Me Someone To Love, Sade
Poinciana, Ahmad Jamal
Put a Little Love in Your Heart, Jackie DeShannon
Ritmo De La Noche, Al Di Meola
Round Midnight, Alex De Grassi
S'Wonderful, Diana Krall
Skinny Love, Bon Iver
Something, The Beatles
Squeeze Me, Lucky Lucy Ann
Stardust, Hoagy Carmichael
Sunday Kind of Love, Etta James
That's Amore, Dean Martin
This Could Be the Start of Something, Oscar Peterson Trio
Though I Live Not Where I Love, William Coulter
True Affection, The Blow
When a Man Loves a Woman, Percy Sledge
Why Should the Fire Die? Nickel Creek
Words of Love, The Mamas and the Papas
Yellow, Coldplay
You and Me, Lifehouse
You Are So Beautiful, Joe Cocker
You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Stevie Wonder
You Showed Me, The Turtles
You Took My Breath Away, Traveling Wilburys
You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You, Dean Martin
Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher, Jackie Wilson
Your Song, Elton John

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February Thaw

graphite and colored pencil, from an old sketchbook

The good news here in southern Wisconsin is that the temperatures have risen above freezing the past two days, and it looks like today will be a nice day also.  The rotten old snowbanks are black with road grit, but that same dark color is hastening their melting.  We live on a hill, so rivulets of snow-melt rush down Atwood Avenue.  I drove to East Troy yesterday to meet my sister-in-law and plan a May train trip to Washington state.  All along the way the traffic sent up showers, and I had to depend upon the windshield wipers to see, though the sun was shining brightly. Today I got the storm window in my studio open and shooke out my dust mop.  For months it has been frozen shut.

No new art to show.  I've been doing a little personal journaling, nothing interesting to anybody else.  A fair sized watercolor on Yupo sits nearly done, but not finished.  Ditto for a colored pencil piece.  Fiddle-dee-dee, I'll worry tomorrow.

by Michael Belongie, the 2009 Wisconsin Poets Calendar

The ordinary is rarer
than we think, as I walk
in early January thaw, thirty
degrees warmer than norm.

Greened grass reappears
from sand-smudged snow;
the melting invigorates
birds, alighting to feeders.

Stoic snowman melts;
his head eroding as
stick arm tilts down, and
ground absorbs this thaw.

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Drawing

graphite and watercolor in Moleskine journal

This is a sketch from a snapshot of my brother taken in 1966.  Mother took several photos of him and of Dad in the dairy barn, just before the herd was sold.  I keep thinking I want to do something with these old pictures, even though they aren't very clear, or well lit.  It seems to me now that I spent most of my childhood in the barn, getting in the way while Dad milked, sometimes feeding calves or climbing up in the mow to throw down bales of hay, playing with the cats, hanging out listening to WGN on the barn radio.  It was a huge change when the cows were gone and Dad went into business selling John Deere equipment.  I'm sure it was better for our family financially, and it certainly was better for his back and knees.  It freed him up to occasionally take little driving trips, and not be ruled by the cows' need to be milked twice a day.  But life was different with an empty barn, not as predictable, and I missed the big dim-witted animals.  

I'm not sure where this is going.  Maybe just looking closely at those old photos and drawing the outlines of bovine hips and legs, and the sweet face of my brother as a six-year-old is enough.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


mixed media collage, 8x10 inches

Yesterday I should have spent most of my time resolving the issues that have arisen with a watercolor.  I revisited a photo I took years ago of a basket of peppers, thinking that the Yupo surface would be ideal for the shiny surface of the peppers.  But along the way I somehow went wrong, and working on it wasn't solving problems, merely causing new ones.  So I set the watercolor aside and tried something else. 

This violet collage was an exercise in composition and colors.  I wanted a cruciform shape, and I wanted to have violet as the base color.  It started with watercolor on Canson paper, then I added at pastel, acrylic, and cut or torn paper.  My scanner created a strange and funky interpretation of the actual colors, which are a little duller than this.  But no matter how I fiddled, I couldn't get it just right.  This image is cropped a bit.  So - today I need to get back to the peppers and see what I can do.  Enough procrastinating.

I'm also looking forward to meeting with a local watercolor group this afternoon.  They plan to work on watercolor canvas, a surface I have never used.  Have any of you worked on watercolor canvas?  

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Bit of Warmth and Color

 It's Groundhog Day, a day when everyone, including that small furry rodent, considers how much more of this winter foolishness it is possible to endure.  I decided to take myself out to a local garden center and walk among the flowering houseplants.  They have an indoor pool with koi, and I visited them too.  The fish aren't fed in the winter, so when I agitated the surface of their world they rose, expecting a treat.  These altered photos are the results of my excursion.  I hope they bring you a smile.

I liked Lily Long's poem because of its joyous and optimistic tone.  I can't say that my dreams have been so pleasant lately, but I still like the feeling reading these words gives me.   

The Singing Place
by Lily A. Long

Cold may lie the day
     And bare of grace;
At night I slip away
     To the Singing Place.

A border of mist and doubt
     Before the gate,
And the Dancing Stars grow still
     As hushed I wait.
Then faint and far away
     I catch the beat
In broken rhythm and rhyme
     Of joyous feet, --
Lifting waves of sound
     That will rise and swell
(If the prying eyes of thought
     Break not the spell),
Rise and swell and retreat
     And fall and flee,
As over the edge of sleep
     They beckon me.
And I wait as the seaweed waits
     For the lifting tide;

To ask would be to be awake,--
     To be denied.
I could my eyes in the mist
     That veils the hem,--
And then with a rush I am past,--
I am Theirs, and of Them!
And the pulsing chant swells up
     To touch the sky,
And the song is joy, is life,
     And the song am I!
The thunderous music peals
     Around, o'rhead-
The dead would awake to hear
     If there were dead;
But the life of the throbbing Sun
     Is in the song,
And we weave the world anew
     And the Singing Throng
Fill every corner of space--

Over the edge of sleep
     I bring out but a trace
Of the chants that pulse and sweep
     In the Singing Place.