Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I frequently joke about how space-challenged I am: if a measurement is over 11x17 inches I just have a hard time picturing what the dimension is. This defect is from years of working in in-house graphics departments that had small budgets and small press runs. At the same time, however, I find that I am equally challenged by anything under about 5x6 inches. With that introduction, let me share the beginnings of a recent 4x4 chunky book project.

The theme for the book was (still is--I've now mailed them and wait for the book to return assembled and bound) angels, which is a favorite subject for me. I've made several fabric angels, and love looking at the many Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque paintings that include angels of all kinds. I've been teaching the fourth grade class about lines, shapes and patterns recently, so my first thought was to combine a Byzantine-inspired angel with a patterned border and the text--all done in rich colors resembling Pietro Lorenzetti's frescoes in San Francesco with lots of gold. But I couldn't get the elements to come together the way I wanted, so the next idea was to focus on the angel, but it kept looking like an Annunciation, which wasn't my verse. I finally sketched a copy of a lovely angel head by Pietro da Cortona (hmm, is there a Pietro theme emerging here?). Being rather pleased with the sketch, I began to flesh it out, which is how my 4x4 project ended up 20x20 inches. Oops!

Photographing it didn't help, so I finally re-drew it much smaller and simpler, photocopied the outlines and then proceeded with the hand-coloring, etc. I was pleased with the result, although I am also chunky-challenged so my pages aren't very dimensional. Oh well--at least it's the right size! Here's a photo of the large angel. I have since redone the wings to look both more bird-like and more like the lovely wings on so many Renaissance angels. I really like the colorful wings on so many of the angels from that time period. Fra Angelico and many of the Northern artists(here and here) really went crazy with the colors. And don't miss van Eyck's angels from the Ghent Altarpiece, which I have heard are the only angels in Northen Renaissance art without wings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Random Adventures

Random Adventure Number 1:

I went to the library last night (in a desperate search for a book that I thought I had accidentally donated, but that's a whole different adventure--it turned up safely under a bed...) and passed a car travelling without its lights on. In the spirit of living dangerously, I flashed my lights. Ha! Yes, I did! And I am still here to tell about it. They did not turn around. They did not chase me down. They did not kill all the occupants in my car. Instead, they turned their lights on and continued on their merry way. I am beginning to suspect that they weren't even gang members.

Which all goes to prove urban legends are alive and well.

Random Adventure Number 2:

Not being a lover of creative culinary endeavors (other than as the audience, and even then it's highly improved by a participation experience!), it sometimes takes me a while to use up mostly shelf-stable ingredients. Last year we had a breakfast surprise when I discovered the baking powder had lost its vitality. Tonight I've discovered that my vanilla extract has reverted to the form of its main ingredient. Unfortunately this discovery came at the expense of my favorite chocolate pudding cake. Hic. Truthfully, no baking disaster could ever rival my sister's cookies from her own recipe (granted, she was young when it happened--as opposed to her being old now? Hmm, I hope she doesn't read this...). She added all the yummy stuff, but just left out all the raising agents, which made for the hardest cookies you've ever tried. My mother was going to throw them all away when I came home to visit from college. Well, who could let an opportunity like that slip by? I took them back to the dorm and distributed them to everyone who was *lucky* enough to get the word that someone had home-baked goodies. Rotten, I know, but my roommate and I never had to share any care packages again. Anyway, I guess I'd better put vanilla on the grocery list. Hic.

Random Adventure Number 3:

I made a hendiadys today. I picked up a biographical sort of book on Edward Gorey at the library not long ago (no, not during yesterday's adventure), which has been intriguing. I loaned my Amphigorey to a friend and need to get it back so I can post more words. But in the meantime I joined *bold* and *sweet* (I think that was the word--I found a very long grey hair on my head the other day, too. I had to have my mom pull one out while we were in Wyoming. I wonder how that feels--pulling your daughter's grey hair out?) to make a nice and intriguing hendiadys (ha ha).

Another unusual word I re-visited recently was cockalorum, as in high cockalorum. I can't remember why I knew it as a youngster, but hadn't thought of it in such a long time until I read an article about an artist recently, who was in the habit of pronouncing things to be high cockalorum. No, I can't remember who the artist was. (That grey hair was quite long; it had obviously been growing for quite some time and taking little pieces of my memory with it, said she who had always had an elephantine memory before children.) Cockalorum, if you're not familiar with the delightful word, is a reference to a self-important and boastful person or boastful talk. I'll have to dig up the artist now.

Well, I suppose it's to work I go now. We're doing Celtic knots and illuminated letters in fourth grade art tomorrow, so I need to look up examples. Good night. Go forth and use some words in a creative and fun manner, as opposed to a creatively fun manner, tomorrow. BTW, my kids and I recently spent some time reading Dr. Seuss in different accents. Quite fun; I would highly recommend it. As a matter of fact, "Green Eggs and Ham" lends itself very nicely to a Scottish accent and had the kids giggling for quite some time (sorry to those of you who naturally speak that way--I'm not trying to be disrespectful. You could try reading it in an Idaho-sort-of-fashion--we wouldn't be offended. And you have to admit that giggling children are much nicer than bickering children!).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Paintings that are almost like real paintings

I'll start by saying that I'm not a huge fan of working in watercolor. However, I will also freely admit that if I did it more often I would understand it better and it would probably grow on me as my watercolor work improved. Funny how that works! That said, I'm going to finally share some of my Wyoming paintings.

I'm not going to share the first one. (But keep reading--I do share others!) Aside from the fact that it is still in my mother's possession, it simply is terrible. The subject was supposed to be the beautiful red cliffs across a field of sagebrush and then some farm fields. I learned quite a bit from it, though, as I sat on my rock and wanted to rip it into a thousand tiny pieces. First I learned quite a bit about technical issues, such as the importance of the correct supplies: paper, paints, a chair! (The teacher loaned me a portable metal one, but I jumped up quick when the thunder rumbled overhead as the clouds sped over!) Second, my compassion for my struggling students grew. If you've ever seen the old version of the Grinch and how his heart grew ten sizes that day (that is the right number isn't it?)--well, that would be sort of like me. I sat on my rock having a most lovely internal conversation that ran something like: "I hate this. I can't do this." "Did you say can't? We don't say can't in art class. We ask for help." "I want to rip this painting apart!" "What a bad attitude! We don't get better if we don't try!" I'll let you supply the voices. When the teacher came to offer help I felt so stupid, but I'm happy to report that I didn't cry--lol! I know what I'm doing with the mediums I work in all the time. I just don't work much in watercolor. Third, I also saw how easy it is to repeat the same mistake, even though I could see that what I was doing was wrong. I just didn't know how to fix it, so I kept trying to fix it the same way. Fourth, the importance of values was reinforced. And I didn't give up, but persevered to the bitterest of ends (cliched, I know, but exactly how I felt!). I was so happy when the other artists were ready to go back to the conference center!

The second day of painting was a lot easier for many reasons, one being the gift of decent paper (thank you Jeannie!). What a difference good supplies can make. My subject that day was a waterfall and while I still wouldn't judge it as good, it was greatly improved. The colors are darker, the result of simply using more paint. Yes, I know--how simple was that? I have a tendency to paint lightly and have always been frustrated with how light my paintings are. Well, why didn't I think of just using more paint on my own? Hmm, who knows. I know now and that's the good part. I suppose I also loosened up quite a bit and just accepted my novice status and quit worrying about what the other artists might be thinking. One of the surprising things I discovered was how many of them felt the same way I did--like a new swimmer struggling against a current--not always knowing the best stroke, being afraid of the consequences if things didn't go exactly how I wanted and growing weary in the process. Once I let go a bit, things started to flow much easier. So here's that watercolor.

I was riding with two wonderful artists from Michigan. These ladies actually live in the same town and know each other, so it was a great blessing to be allowed to tag along in their car. They also gave me many invaluable tips. By afternoon they were ready to leave the falls, so we headed out to a beautiful field where they had spied some great fall colors earlier in the week. By then I was starting to feel warmed up, so I joined in and here's the result. Again, not ready for the gallery, but improving in quality, as well as my attitude toward the whole thing.

By the final day of painting I was starting to almost enjoy myself. (!) We all went out to a local ranch and I was so eager to get started that I didn't spend much time watching the teacher, but scouted my location pretty quickly. I opted for an easy little shed with some great autumn foliage coming down in front. In the end I didn't finish it because the wind came up and chilled us to the bone, but there's nothing quite like practice for improving! (Something I tell my art students on a regular basis.) The colors are definitely more alive, not to mention see-able because they are darker. I was actually quite pleased with some of the spots, like the door and the skull. Unfortunately the part I did not finish was the section that pulled the whole composition together: the glowing leaves that came down in front of the shed and contrasted so beautifully with the colors of the wooden siding. I still need to find out how I would work those in technically. But even unfinished I was happier than the first day and beginning to feel like I could conquer watercolor.

I was so optimistic that I came home and bought a basic watercolor set. I also bought a tube set of acrylics (as opposed to the fluid ones I've got a variety of). So, I may be optimistic about watercolor, but now I have another confession. At this point, my heart belongs to my acrylics. There, I've said it. It's out in the open. I painted an apple study one evening and was so much happier with the results. I like my little apple and have left it out for all to see and have even showed it to people outside of my family. Yes, again, it's not gallery quality yet, but it gives me hope for my figurative painting abilities.

For anyone who has stuck with my little tale long enough, I now have a treat for you. If you haven't already found it, be sure to check out the blog of James Gurney, the author and illustrator of the Dinotopia books. Witty, talented and generous with his time and instruction, I would have to say that Gurney's blog is one of my favorites. Plus he likes art history--yay! Please check it out and enjoy. Blessings to you!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Most Excellent Milestone

We spent the afternoon today helping celebrate my husband's grandparent's 69th wedding anniversary. Yes, that would be one short of 70--wow! If we make it to that milestone we will be 91 and 97 (yours truly being the younger number, thank you very much!). Hope we make it!