Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Pear and a Poem

3x5 inches, watercolor and Inktense pencil on Yupo 

Though I started a good sized drawing, and have a big collage half done, this bitty thing interested me more this morning.  I had some scraps of Yupo (a plastic "paper" often used in graphics), and I decided to add some swishes of soft gel medium for texture.  Then this morning I quickly added liquid watercolor and Derwent Intense pencil just to see what would happen.  I sort of like the effect.  I wasn't going for anything too realistic, just playing around.    I'm interested in the way the juicy watercolor follows the ridges that the gel medium created. 

My Wisconsin Poets' Calendar 2010 is almost done, so I thought I'd share another selection before I switch over for 2011.  I went with the Sierra Club calendar for next year, so fewer poems and more nature for my year of turning sixty.

The View From My Dining Room Window
by Jerilyn Kaufman

In 18 inches of snow, a gray bushy-tailed squirrel
burrows for the treasure he buried on a sunlit autumn day.
His internal map tells him his goal is next to the dormant bushes,
just right of the freshly shoveled sidewalk.
With quick, jerky movements, he digs and digs
into the snow until all that is seen is his bushy tail.
In the blink of an eye, he's back on top of the bank of snow
a black walnut, hard as cement, clutched in his jaw.
A ball of snow clings to the side of his snout.
He doesn't care.  He has his treasure.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.  I'm just remembering the ghosts of Christmases past, and sharing some memories today.  We had a lovely Christmas Eve at my brother's house last night, and this morning the back yard is dusted with fresh white snow.  Friends stopped by with homemade Christmas cookies, and life is good.  That said, I miss my mom and dad and grandparents today, and miss the excitement of childhood Christmas mornings.  The privilege of being the oldest one at the party is being nostalgic, maybe.

 Mom and Dad's first Christmas; they had been married in August of that year.  They lived in a green trailer in Grandpa's side yard.  This was 1949.

 My first Christmas, the oldest grandchild, with a bear and pile of dolls.

Santa, at Grandma's house, about 1954.  I see images of children terrified by Santa on television, but I was just happy and excited.  Actually, I think he DOES look a little scary...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Current Project

I am a little obsessed with pears lately.  This is my most recent work in progress, cleaned up for the photo, since the entire work area is generally adrift in piles of little paper snippets and torn bits.  I decided to use a canvas board support instead of  heavy watercolor paper this time, and I'm using soft gel medium as my glue.  It works well, although last night I spent most of the evening after I cleaned up picking little scabs of gel medium off my hands.  This image has quite a large area around the edges that will never show, since it will be covered with a mat, but I wanted paper right to the edge of the board.  This time I am using a combination of found paper colors and prepared papers.  There are old Post magazine pages, old sheet music, old cheese factory ledger pages, all painted with thinned down acrylic paint.  I also painted to canvas board with a combination of blue and violet, thinking I'd let little bits of the under-painting peek through to enliven the yellow/orange of the pears.  Today I need to prepare more papers for the table and background.

This is my studio. It's small, but efficient.  I can reach most of what I need without ever getting out of my chair.  In summertime it's hot, but in winter the small size makes it easy to warm with a baseboard space heater.  There isn't really enough natural light either, so I have a shop light (hidden by the sloped ceiling here), a full spectrum Ott light and a desk lamp for when I'm working after dark.  Today is the shortest day, so the lights go on a little after 4:00 in the afternoon.  Solstice tomorrow and then the light begins to return!

The low level of the sun in December makes for some dramatic lighting.  This is the poinsettia I bought from the high school FFA sale.  Last year the plant looked good right up to the point when I marched it to the compost heap, and let it make room for more summery plants.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Musings on Music

I am a person who cannot imagine life without music.  I am not musically talented, although I whistle, hum, sing, bang away at my old piano.  In the past I have also attempted to play a six string guitar and mountain dulcimer, with limited success.  I can make noises on both the jaw harp and note flute, although I hesitate to call that music.  In high school and college I sang in large choirs, where my thin soprano would be mostly lost, but I could be in the middle of people passionately making music, could feel it in my entire body.  Last year, when I attended our community's annual walk in Messiah concert, I was disappointed almost to the point of tears to realize that after years of straining my voice in the classroom, I could no longer make any sort of pleasant music with that instrument.  Out of concern for others, this year I will stay home.

So, in my dotage I mostly listen to music that other people make, and mostly on my computer or iPod.  I splurged on a gift for myself in honor of my upcoming sixtieth birthday and bought a Bose sound dock for my studio, and now spend many happy hours there listening while I work.  Music serves to at least partially turn off the analytical part of my brain, the part that is ultra-critical, the part that keeps me from taking artistic risks.  I work better with music.  Oddly, I also am more successful at video games when I have music playing.  When I was younger I could read with music playing in the background, but in the past few years have lost my ability to concentrate on words when there is music playing.

I'm sure neurologist and author Oliver Sacks could explain all this.  Sacks is an author who I almost always enjoy, although sometimes he goes into more scientific detail than I care to read. I've learned to selectively skip ahead when the science is too technical for my interest level.  So far I have enjoyed several of his nonfiction books (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, Island of the Colorblind, An Anthropologist on Mars), all of which tell stories of people with neurological differences cause by strokes, disease, physical trauma, or genetic accident.  Without fail, Sacks' descriptions of how these people perceive the world, and how their differences are not always deficits, are instructive and entertaining. 

In Musicolphilia Sacks covers a wide range of topics related to music and brain function.  He discusses musical hallucinations, tunes that become stuck in your brain and why that happens, perfect pitch, the relationship between music and blindness, people who cannot enjoy or appreciate music, and therapeutic applications for music.  I found reading about ways that music can accelerate physical healing and be helpful for aphasic patients and people suffering from various sorts of dementia, to be gripping and thought provoking.  From the cover blurb, this seems to sum it up: Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

I also found a couple new composers and songs to add to my iPod.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three Pears

4.5 x 6.5 inches, acrylic on watercolor paper, with touches of oil pastel

I'm still playing with acrylic paint on paper, heavily textured with acrylic gel medium.  There's also some collaged and altered paper under there, though it pretty much disappeared. The main three colors are napthol red, yellow orange azo, and ultramarine blue, and I glazed over the table and wall with burnt sienna.  I'm working with pears because I crave them lately, and the shapes are simple.  I had good success with mounting one of these pear paintings on a a 5x7 inch canvas, painted black.  I used gel medium, made sure the air bubbles were squeezed out, then put o a cover sheet and a pile of heavy books over night. In the morning the little painting is flat, mounted with a simple black border, and ready to wire.

I think I made the whole thing warm because it is so cold outside.  Brrrrr!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Now For Something Completely Different - A Sock Monkey

The National Weather Service has been warning us since yesterday that we are in for a big winter storm, so a trip with friends to Milwaukee today was canceled, and tomorrow's trip to the opening reception of Watercolor Wisconsin will be canceled too.  We went shopping for food, laid in a stock of books and prepared to hunker down.  As I type, cars are spinning their wheels on the hill outside the house, and I am in here wrapped in fleece, drawing sock monkeys.

Hey, who doesn't like a sock monkey?  My dad wore Rockford socks, the kind with the red heel, as long as I could remember, wore out the toes and heels inside his Redwing work boots.  So when I see a sock monkey, I think of my dad, in stocking feet.  His work boots, mucked up from being in the barn, were behind the kitchen door.

Actually I doodled this guy in response to an online challenge at Doodlers Anonymous.  Check it out.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Bouquet - Studio Atalier Challenge

5x7 inches, acrylic with touches of oil pastel and tissue paper collage

Oh dear.  Skies are gray.  Snow keeps falling.  Icy patches are building up where we walk, and the house is too cold for my comfort.  I have a space heater in the studio, so when I go there to paint I can at least be a little warmer.

Yesterday I headed over to my local painting group, and tortured them with constant chatter, something I have to stop doing.  I think the need to blather on comes from a built up need to interact with other people, especially this time of year when I spend so much of the day inside in solitary pursuits - the talk inside just builds up and has to be released!

Anyway, when I got home I decided it was time to paint something in response to an online challenge, and this little painting was the result.  Not my favorite, perhaps.  I don't always feel compelled to paint florals, but I wanted to experiment with a brighter, simpler style than usual.  I was unhappy with the tabletop, so on a whim I added tissue paper stripes, just to echo the orange in the flowers.

Want to try your own version?  Head over to to Studio Atalier and take a look at the original, then see what you want to do with it (or another reference photo).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Birthdays, Deathdays, and an Acrylic Pear

December 8th.  On this day in 1930 my mother was born. And thirty years ago today I had to pull over as I was driving to school because I had burst into tears on hearing that John Lennon had been shot.  In many ways today was a day that had me staring out the window to the snowy yard, reflecting on mortality, missing my mom, and missing John a little too.

So, I decided to go to the library to look for a little more jazz and electronic music for my painting play list on the iPod, and then actually sitting down to paint.  I've been playing around with acrylics, really playing, just doing little exercises from Robert Burridge's website, except that it didn't take long for me to start branching out from his examples.  I started playing down gel medium and pressing in plastic screening for texture, and also pasting down collaged elements, though they ended up disappearing under paint.  I was using only a triad of red, yellow and blue, plus some white, and trying to be sure to get a strong sense of light and shadow, and good contrast.  Finally I got out the oil pastels and adding that over the top of the acrylic.  I'm not sure how effective it is, but it sure is the cure for a mild case of the blues.

I did about a half dozen of these, and none looks just the same.  They're all 5x7 inches, which gave me a sense of being productive, if nothing else.  I love pears, and tend to think of them as food, rather than stand-ins for feminine shapes, cellos, or some such nonsense.  When I was in high school for several years one of Mom's school friends who taught in Oregon took to sending her a box of Harry and David pears every year. Mother didn't eat fruit, but I coveted those pears.  She'd give me the box and I'd hide the fruit in my closet, and eat pears, one a day, until they were gone.  Heaven.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Men of Milwaukee

I swear, since I retired from teaching I have become less and less focused on tasks at hand, or scattershot in how I spend my days.  For the past year or so I have been actively researching my family, and also my husband's family.  His family is harder, because not that many people seem interested in family history, or have kept good records.  I have been trying to learn more about his grandfather's family, and finding relatively little information.  I was especially interested in a couple brothers who started a successful heat treating business, and I was excited to discover a biography of one of them in Men of Milwaukee: A Biographical and Photographic Record of Business and Professional Men of Milwaukee (Volume 1 1929-1930).  Sure enough, there was a photograph of his great uncle, and more information then I had ever found before. But the book ended up being interesting to me for another reason.  The photos of all these white men, mostly German immigrants, with their short haircuts, serious expressions.  It occurred to me that it would be fun to do a dozen or so sketches from the old photos, practice modified contour drawing, and using a range of values in each one.  All are in my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook using Inktense watercolor pencil and an ink pen.

I'm having a ball.  The sketches vary in likeness, though that doesn't especially bother me.  These are the first four I did last night and today.  Maybe I'll improve as I go along.  No procrastinating here, because the book will be due back at the library in a couple weeks.