Saturday, April 05, 2014

A different sort of creativity

Last week, I was up in the charming town of Port Townsend, Washington to visit my friends Paige and Alan.  As always when I'm around Paige, I appreciate the amazing and unique nature of her creativity.  It's clear to me that creativity can come in so many different forms, but in Paige I see something I don't see in many people.  She has the ability to see things and put them together in unusual ways that instantly make sense.  The connections between them seem obvious once she makes them, but I'm often struck by how I'd never have put things together the way she does. Ever.

That art of arranging things is a subtle thing, too, because it's a sort of invisible creativity.  It's easy to take for granted, because once it's applied, it looks, well, natural and effortless. I suppose that set decorators and photostylists and window decorators have to develop this sort of skill.  But I've known Paige for almost 30 years, and she has always had it.  It's so normal to her that she doesn't think of it as anything special.  We've begun to call it "making vignettes" -- she'll bring something home, put it with a few other items that connect in her head, and voila, it's a new and charming vignette. 

So visiting her, and seeing the fun stuff around her house, and visiting the booths in the antique mall where she sells vintage collectibles, is always a visual feast. As usual, I came away wishing I'd taken more photographs and made more sketches.  But the truth is that I could be housebound at Paige's for a month and there wouldn't be time to see and sketch and photograph all of the interesting things she has collected.

I think I need to go back. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Ghost in my Office

Now, I will admit that I am not the tidiest of people.  Things can end up in unexpected places.  But this morning things seem to have gotten out of control and the only explanation I can come up with involves supernatural ones.  To be specific, I think it was a visit from my Uncle Jack.

Last week, I bought two packages of photo paper at Staples.  They are in bright yellow boxes, hard to miss.  I opened one and used some paper, and I put the other box in the closet where I store computer paper.  The opened box sat on my desk next to the computer for a few days as I continued to use it.

Then, I had to tidy my office to make it look official and professional for a photo shoot.  (For a website.  Long story which I won't go into here.)  I put the miscellaneous stuff away, and I remember taking the photo paper out of the printer, putting it back into the package, and refilling the printer with normal copy paper.

Photo shoot happens, I go out of town for a few days, and this morning I sat down at my computer to edit a few photos and then print them out.

When it came time to print, I looked for the opened package of photo paper.  But I couldn't find it anywhere.  It was not in the closet with the unopened box.  It was not in any file drawers or anywhere I can think I might have tucked it while cleaning the desk surface.  I have looked behind and under things.  I have looked in other rooms, thinking that maybe I mistakenly carried it off in a pile of something-or-another.  It's a bright yellow box, for pete's sake.  Not hard to see.  But it is not anywhere I can find.

So I decide that I will open the other box, print my photos, and I'll eventually find Box #1.  You may be familiar with photo paper boxes like this -- the outer cardboard is sealed with two overlapping flaps that are fastened with a clear tape seal, and then other flaps inside there hold the plastic-wrapped pile of photo paper.  I take my scissors, gently cut the plastic seal, open the flap....

... and inside, facing up, is a photo of my aunt and uncle and their family, along with a few postcards that I used to display on my office bulletin board years ago, but were lately tucked into an organizer slot on my desk.

Yep, you read that right.  I opened the SEALED PACKAGE to find a family photo and some other postcards.

And you know how I mentioned that i was out of town for a few days last week?  I was visiting my aunt.  THE ONE IN THE PHOTO.  And, one night, we were talking about my uncle who died 4 years ago, and I was explaining somehing to my aunt about something he'd said to me once and why it was very meaningful to me.  Of course, during the visit his name came up various times too. Also, coincidentally, my mom and aunt and I had a long conversation about whether people who've died can visit us or communicate with us after they've died, and I was saying that I absolutely believe that they can.

Oh. I've just realized that it's St. Patrick's day today.  My uncle was Irish... my only Irish relative, in fact.

I still haven't found the first box of photo paper.  But I got my photos printed and I will carefully put Box #2 back in the closet and hope box #1 turns up.  And I will enjoy the very odd but sort of comforting thought that Uncle Jack was saying hello and telling me he knew I was thinking about him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Petaluma Morning

This past weekend, I met up with some Urban Sketching friends for a morning of sketching.  We met in the northern California town of Petaluma (the home of the mythical Daisy Hill Puppy Farm where Snoopy was born).  It's a lovely town, full of interesting old buildings, new shops and restaurants, a river and an old railroad station and lovingly kept Victorian homes.  We were graced with a perfect sunny day, and there was no shortage of things to draw -- even lots of benches along the street for sitting to sketch, too.

Our Urban Sketchers-North Bay group is pretty new, but we've gotten together often enough now that we're starting to know each other a bit.  I'm starting to recognize people's styles, and I learn so much from seeing what everyone does. 

We had some first-time attendees this weekend, too.  I had a funny conversation with one talented sketcher, Veda, who said that she felt pressured if she thought she was "sketching" but could relax and enjoy herself if she told herself she was "drawing."  Funny, I replied, as it's the opposite for me -- if I think I'm "drawing," then I somehow expect it to be tidy and perfect, while "sketching" in a journal feels free and inconsequential and I can just have fun.  We giggled at how we have to fool our inner critics to be able to just relax and create something.

Every time I sit down to draw something, I'm struck again at how pleasurable it is to just LOOK at somethings, and looking is really different from seeing.  When I look at something to draw it, I see it in a very different way.  I suddenly notice architectural details I hadn't really discerned before.  I notice shadows, and the graceful way they highlight features.  I notice the elegance of the street lamps, and the way the brick at the top of the buildings has weathered to a different color than the rest of the wall.  It's a visual meditation of sorts, and I realize every time that it's THAT feeling that keeps me sketching. It's a way of being fully present and absorbed and it feels wonderful. 

For anyone in the north bay area of San Francisco Bay, our group tries to get out to sketch on the second saturday of every month (usually around 10am) and the 4th thursday afternoon, usually around 1pm.  You can check out future sketch dates on the blog or on the USk-NB facebook page.  And you are welcome to come along!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Such tough critics on ourselves

This afternoon I met a few Urban Sketching friends for a sketch date at a local cafe.  We'd arranged to meet there in case it was raining or cold, and we ended up staying inside for the most part because it was windy and looking like it was going to rain any minute.  You could just tell that as soon as you got situated somewhere with supplies around you and a good sketch subject in view, it would start to rain and you'd have to run for cover.

I've not been sketching as regularly as I like, and I can really tell when I'm feeling rusty.  But I tackled sketching a person which felt like a good challenge for me.  (Luckily, she was engrossed in reading on her electronic device and sat pretty still.  Moving people are tricky!) She's not great, really, but I was proud of myself for not avoiding her and I was pleased with the result.

But what struck me was how hard all of us our on ourselves.  Of the four of us who where there, only one seems confident in his skill.  He's a graphic designer by profession, and has taken art classes and drawn and painted all of his adult life.  He's even taught drawing classes, he mentioned casually today.  Oh.  No wonder his people look so good.

All four of us had really different styles, and used different media (straight to pen, or using markers, or shading with water-soluble pens), and approached drawing in really different ways.  And -- at least for the three of us relative newbies -- we all liked each other's work better than our own.  Pip and I have decided that we are the perfect sketching companions, because we always like each other's work better than our own so we compliment each other lavishly (and mean it) and do wonders for each other's confidence.  

But how interesting it is that we see our own work so critically, and can take such delight in someone else's work.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A New Feeling About Something Old

The creative urge is a funny thing.  Over the last few months, I've been feeling pretty uninspired creatively, especially as art quilts go.  It's not that I've NOT been doing creative things -- but I have a rather long list of things I want to do, and/or feel I should do, and I've just not had any urge to do any of them.  But, as always, these phases pass just as suddenly as they arrive.

So after trying my usual tricks to push myself forward, yesterday I sat down with a cup of coffee and clicked over to Design Matters TV, a wonderful online show by the always inspiring Linda and Laura Kemshall.  (A side note about DMTV:  It's a subscription service, but if you like art, or sketchbook keeping, or art quilting, or painting, you will find something there for you.  It's well worth the price, in my opinion.  You can check it out here.)

At any rate, I wasn't aiming for any particular subject -- I just wanted to watch Linda or Laura do something creative.  I clicked on the oldest video on the current menu, which involved Linda demonstrating how to use the striations in hand-dyed fabrics to create dimension in fussy-cut fusible applique shapes.  She was working with irises, which although pretty were of little interest for me.  I don't really have any interest at the moment in making a floral quilt.  (Actually, there's the problem.  I don't have any interest, period.)

But wait, maybe I do.  As I watched, I thought about a UFO I'd encountered while sorting through the UFO pile in my closet a few weeks ago.  It's probably the oldest thing in the pile, something I started back in 2001 when I was new to art quilting and just bumbling along.  I was working with a photo I'd taken years ago on Nantucket, where I was enthralled by the roses climbing over shingled houses and falling gracefully over picket fences all over town.

It was my first time experimenting with fusible applique.  I bought a bunch of Seam-a-Seam, having seen someone use it for something on good ol' Simply Quilts, and I set about constructing my fence and making leaves.

I was having a good old time sticking leaves on, and after I pressed it all, I was taken aback at how stiff the whole thing was.  I was undaunted and decided to sew some leaf details before I moved on to the roses.

But how to do the roses?  I had no idea. And when I say I had no idea, I mean I had ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE how to accomplish what I was picturing.  And so time passed, and eventually I folded it all up and put it away.  And since then, I've pulled it out every once in a while (say, every 5 years or so) thinking I should just throw it away, but I realize that I like the leaves and they look good on that background, and actually it's better than I remembered, so I fold it up and put it back on the pile.

But today, it occurred to me that Linda's technique might be just the thing for those roses.  Before I could think myself out of it, I pulled some pinks out of my stash of hand-dyed fabric, and set about cutting some roses and highlighting them with Inktense Pencils.*

So here is a little sample rose.  Not bad, and rather fun.  Still needs some additional highlighting, but I'll worry about that later. 

And here is just a test of a few roses pinned on to see how it looks.  Promising!  i figure I'll keep going until the thing is either finished, or I discover that it's too thick to sew through and I really do have to throw it away.

But so far, so good.  I plan to spend the evening cutting out and coloring roses.

*I shall say here once more how VERY happy I am that I bought that wonderful box set of Inktense Pencils when I was at the Derwent Pencil Factory in England, and how very worth it it was to pay for an extra box of stuff to be shipped home to me.  I LOVE those pencils. And it's amazing how often they come in handy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Mother Who Knows

Well, there are a lot of things I don't know as a mother.  But I have been thinking lately that there are a lot of things I do know.  I know my daughter is healthy, and happy, and safe.  I know she has a roof over her head, enough food to nourish her, and access to all of the education and activities she wants.  And to know that is no small thing.

I saw the movie "Philomena" last week.  Have you seen it?  It's based on the true story of a woman who, on the 50th anniversary of her son's birth, decides to look for him.  She'd become pregnant as a young girl in the 1950's, and was sent off to a convent in Ireland where she was forced to sign away the rights to her child and required to work at the convent for years to pay off the cost of their keeping her there. It's a very poignant story, with humor and charm, and lovely acting (as always) by Judi Dench.

But I found that I had tears rolling down my face through most of the movie, watching the story of how quietly tormented Philomena was by  not knowing what had happened to her son. Was he homeless?  A drug addict?  In prison? Was he even alive?  Had he had a good childhood?  And the question that plagued her:  Did he ever think of her, and of his homeland?

As the adopted mother of a child from China, I am always aware that the luck and delight I feel at being able to parent my daughter comes at the expense of a woman I'll never know.  She is far away on the other side of the world, and I have little idea of what her life was like when she gave birth to my daughter, or what it is now.  But I do  know that because of China's one-child policy as it was in the early 90's when my daughter was born, so many women had no choice but to give up their babies.  Maybe my daughter wasn't ripped out of her arms, but chances are pretty high that she felt utterly hopeless and without any other option when she placed my baby girl in a well-traveled spot on that bridge in Chongqing where someone would find her and take her to an orphanage.  I don't know what her circumstances were, or how long she was able to keep the baby with her after she was born, or whether she had her at home or was able to go to a hospital.  I don't even know whether the day we celebrate as my daughter's birthday really is her birthday.  The orphanages tended to guestimate, and while our daughter's age and development seems pretty on-target, I know others whose daughter's assigned ages were definitely off by a  year or more.

But what this movie has made me remember is that the stuff I don't know is nothing compared to what my daughter's birth mother doesn't know. I think about her every single day, I really do.  I wish I could let her know that her daughter is healthy and happy and safe, and how well loved, and cherished she is.  I wish I could thank her for the tremendous gift she's given me, and how my whole life has changed in ways I never could have imagined because of her.  I'd tell her, too, how I'm aware that some of my daughter's traits -- her creativity, her curiosity, her quick wit, her stubbornness -- tell me something about what her birth parents might be like.  I'd tell her that my daughter and I talk about her, and that I remind my daughter that she probably knows a fair amount about her birth mother just from looking at herself in the mirror.

 I like to think that she can, somehow, feel the cosmic thoughts I send her way.  But I guess I'll never know.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thoughts Pondered While Vacuuming the Stairs

1.  Someone should invent something that makes vacuuming the stairs easy and effective.  Lord knows I've googled and searched and haven't found any brilliant solution. I'd pay a lot of money for something like that.  IS there something like that? .

2.  Wait, is that called a house cleaner?

3.  I should have rescued a dog with fur that matched the rug.  Or planned carpeting that matched the dog.

4.  In a household with a black dog, a gray cat and a white cat, I can't win.  No matter what color something is, SOME pet hair will end up showing on it.

5.  With all the dog hair drifting around, am I inhaling a bit every day?  Like pet dander?  Do doctors find people with pet hair in their lungs?  How is it I'm not coughing up furballs?  Ack. 

6.  Let me pause a moment and appreciate that the dog hair is on the stairs and not in my lungs.  Small gratitude moment.

7. Maybe my next dog should be a non-shedding poodle.  Or doodle.  Or a hairless dog. 

8.  On second thought, I'd rather have uncarpeted stairs and a big furry dog. 

9.  I wonder how much it would cost to rip the carpet off of the stairs and put hardwood on them.

10.  I wonder how much fabric and art supply stuff I would have to not buy to save the money for replacing the stair carpet with hard wood. 

11.  Vacuuming the stairs = Life Evaluation + Animal Companion Philosophy + Physical Workout.

So, I'm cleaning today.  What are YOU doing?!  And what do you think about while you do it?!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking back at 2013

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

This has been a remarkable for year for me.  I've experienced a lot of changes, and I realized as I was thinking about things this morning that much of the change has taken place in my own head.  It's been a year of introspection and reflecting on the past, and it has resulted in a lot of new understanding and growth. 

In some ways, because it's been a year of internal activity rather than outward processing, I feel like I've not got much to show for what I've accomplished this year.  The things that I've accomplished and am in the process of achieving aren't the things that show up in photos.  They are in my head and my heart and, I hope, in how I approach every day. 

Still, because I've enjoyed putting together a slide show of the year in pictures, when I sat down to see what I had pictures OF, I realized several significant things.  One is that I made huge strides in sketching and painting, and making that part of my daily life.  In fact, even though I didn't carry my camera around nearly as much as I have done in the past, I carried my sketchbook -- and I discovered in this slideshow process that my sketchbooks really have become a visual journal of what I have been doing.  Participating in some online painting classes from Jane LaFazio, Val Webb, Joanne Sharpe have inspired and taught me -- and painting daily for the "Every Day in May" challenge was a big piece of using painting to memorialize bits of daily life. 

It's also notable to me that although, for the most part, my family hates to have their pictures taken so I tend not to snap a lot of pictures of them, I do have sketches that remind me of family events that trigger wonderful memories for me.  Perhaps that's an incentive to learn to sketch people better during this coming year!

I also revived a long-held love for a looser (and messier) art journalling.  That has been a fun way to address some of the personal issues I've been thinking about.

So, all in all, it's been a good year.  Quiet, introspective, but really, solidly, good.  I didn't finish a lot of quilts, and did less sewing overall than I have in long time.  But I did a lot more painting, and a lot of reading, and a lot of time just enjoying being where I am right now. One of my goals for 2013 was to do something creative every day.   And I did.

I have faith that the coming year will bring peace and happiness.  I hope it does for you, too.  Happy New Year to you!
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Fun

I hope you all are basking in a glow of post-Christmas relaxation. I am spending the day by declaring it Pajama Day and hanging around with my friend Beth and Miss C reading, nibbling, and doing varieties of nothing. It's lovely.

But I thought I would share a very fun Christmassy experience from earlier in the week. In the town of Windsor- the next town south of mine-- they do an annual Charlie Brown Christmas Tree grove on the town green where various local group and individuals sponsor and decorate a tree which remains on display through New Year's Eve.

It really is beautiful. They even have a machine that spews out fake snow every night, with a big sign than says "Snow at 5:30 and 7:30 pm nightly!" (Which I figure would amuse the heck out of my friends in New England whose snow is not so conveniently scheduled.). Turns out the snow is made up or teeny soap bubbles but it looks very snowy and amuses the little kids and those of us grown-ups who are easily entertained.

I was with my good friend Beth and we had a good time strolling around looking at each tree. But one tree in particular had us doubled over with laughter.

Can you read this "ornament"? It says "what your doctor won't tell you about menopause." Hey, I want one of those for MY tree! We saw that the tree was sponsored by an OB/GYN who apparently specializes in hormonal issues. I don't know if you can tell in this shot, but there were also little (empty) tubes of progesterone decorating the tree. Because nothing says Christmas like hormonal ointments.

Goodness... I just realized that you can see another "ornament" that says "Breast Cancer." How... Ahem .... Nice. There were also laminated photos of the good doctor himself. Yep, a man. I'd like to think that this tree was an indication of a highly ironic sense of humor, but I wonder. In any event, it gave me and Beth a good burst of tears-rolling-down-our-faces laughter, which is more than you can hope for from a well-decorated Christmas tree.



Saturday, December 21, 2013


Using a lot of these:

Yep, a lingering cold. But at least they are Christmasy!


(Our chorus closed our holiday concerts with this very arrangement and I'm still singing it around the house. Beautiful!)


A whole lot of Hallmark holiday movies.  They're sappy but I love them.


 Lots to think about in this book.  I love her writing, as well as her approach to spirituality.


I am loving the Instrumental Holiday music channel for quiet evenings in front of the fire.


 I made a big pot of vegetable soup the other day -- with lots of red pepper flakes so the spiciness will clear up this cold!  Delicious!


 Having the tree and holiday decorations up.  So cheery and festive.  I love the holiday glow.

I hope you're "currently" enjoying the wonders of the season!