Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Look at Sonora

I spent last week up in Sonora, a charming town smack-dab in the middle of California Gold Country.  My sister came with me, and together we did a whole lot of exploring and picture-taking and sketching and reading and general relaxing.

Did I mention a whole lot of pictures? I took a lot.  And I'm sure you'd like to see some glimpses of Sonora, wouldn't you?

My sister and I had mexican food at the table just inside this window, by the way.

Can you see me in the reflection here?

 You gotta love a town that has a School of Sewing, and with a sign this cool:

 And speaking of signs...

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Colors for the Road

Hello friends,

I'm already on the road headed into California Gold Country for the week, but as part of my trip preparations I decided to revise my watercolor palette and downsize from the large one I've been using to a smaller one. 

First, I emptied the small box and gave it a good rinse.  There! All clean! 

I especially like this small Schmincke palette box.  I bought it filled with Schmincke pans but I've used them and now I fill empty pans with Daniel Smith tube paint.  And yes, I pulled out the metal base with the prongs that hold the pans, because I can fit more pans in without it.

Instead, I cut a piece of quilting or stenciling template plastic the size of the base.

That holds the pans and then I can pop them out easily too -- as here, where I pulled out the last configuration of pans in this palette box...

The palettes are stuck to the plastic with that blu-tack putty you can get at art supply stores.

But look how many half-pans I can fit inside:  21! 

I don't know a tidy way to fill the pans from the tubes.  I'm just messy at it, what can I say?  At least I didn't end up with any paint on my face.   And voila -- now to let this rest and dry for a bit.

I have a lot of my usual favorite colors but I'm trying a few new ones this time.  Here's what's in the palette (All Daniel Smith except for one WN):

Row 1: 
Lemon Yellow
Hansa Yellow medium
Perinone Orange
Pyrol Scarlet
Quinacradone Rose
French Ultramarine
Indanthrone Blue

Row 2:
Green Gold
Green Apatite Genuine
Perylene Green
Cobalt Turquoise (WN)
Carbazole Violet
Diane's Bistre (burnt sienna + french ultramarine)

Row 3:
Buff titanium
Quinacradone gold
Burnt Sienna
Indian Red
Raw Umber
Lunar black

Lunar black is one of the new ones.  I usually don't include a black in my palette but I've read that this makes interesting mixes and granulates well. So I'm giving it a try.  Every time I fill a palette and start using it, I discover that there are colors I just rarely use.  Perinone orange might turn out to be one of those.  We'll see.  

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Jumping Frogs Packed

In a few days, I'll be hitting the road for a little adventure.  I can't wait!   I should be cleaning house and doing laundry and getting things in order before I leave.  However, I have my priorities.

I spent yesterday making a travel journal just for this little trip.   And this time, I've tried to restrain myself and leave lots of open space for gluing thing in and journaling and, eventually, adding photos.

So where am I headed?  Off with my sister to explore the California gold country!

We'll be staying in this cozy cottage and venturing forth from here each day.  We've not been to this area since we were kids so we're eager to see it all again. 

Adventure, here we come.  Jumping frogs packed and ready.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Trying to be a chameleon is hard work

I think there is some chameleon in me.  I see something that mesmerizes me and I want to BE it.  I crawl toward it. 

Like this, over here.   Or this

I climb all over it and look really hard and try to figure out how to crawl into that skin.

You know, so I can do this.    

I can spend a whole lot of time trying to make myself match those wonderful, wonderful things.  Like this... who wouldn't want to do this?

But really, I'm not a very good chameleon. And that's probably a good thing.  After I wear myself out trying to do things that look like something that's not me, I remember what it is I can do. I remember I like things simple and cleanI like to see the white of the page.  I remember that what I do isn't great, it isn't perfect, but it reflects me.   For today, anyway.

Tomorrow, I'll probably crawl off toward some other wonderful thing and start trying to change my skin again. 

** All of this is to stay that I'm putting away the acrylic paints, packing up the box of stencils, and closing the journal full of dreadfully ugly, messy, over-wrought attempts at art journal pages I've made today.  I'm putting my pretty flowered cotton table cloth back on the table, and setting out the polka-dotted vase of white roses, and I'm gonna just relax and breathe easily again.  Trying to be a chameleon is hard work.  

Sitting and Listening

I've lived within an hour or so from San Francisco for a fair amount of my life.  And I've spent time in the city over the years, going to fun events and places and seeing the wonderful things there are to see there.  But this past weekend, I had an amazing revelation.

I was in the city in the first place to see a play.  ("Into the Woods" at the SF Playhouse.  It was fabulous.  Musical.  Toe-tappingly fun.  Deeply thought-provoking.  As the best theater is, of course.)  I stayed overnight and decided to do a bit of sketching and a bit of shopping around Union Square.

I started the morning in a cafe right on the square, where I could sit in the sunshine and sip my latte and watch the people lining up for the tour buses.  It was a great place to sit and absorb the place. 

And it amazed me.  I think I heard a whole planet's worth of foreign languages swirling around me as I sat there sketching.  People making plans. People poking at their cell phones. People eating breakfast and chattering away about... well, who knows, because it wasn't in languages I could understand.   

Later in the day, after some roaming and shopping, I returned to the square, found a bench with a good vantage point, and pulled out my sketchbook again.  

 I was near some young, beautiful Muslim women who had set up a table and were telling everyone about Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan.  (I taped the little card the woman gave me right onto my sketch which made her smile broadly.)  I could hear them chattering musically in their language, interspersed with their conversations as people stopped at their table.  I could hear the group of young guys behind me talking about their girlfriends and their party plans.  At one point, a big group of students gathered to announce a protest (about the political situation in the Philippines) and then they chanted for 20 minutes or so before they marched off, banners waving, to take their protest through the city.  

At another point, I felt a quiet presence beside me and I looked up to find a young girl, maybe 10 or 12, standing beside me. I said hello. She told me she was from China and she wanted to know what I was doing.  Drawing, I said, did she draw?  Not very well.  I told her my daughter was from China, which earned me a surprised look.  She told me where she was from.  Your English is very good, I said.  I like to practice it, she replied.  And off she went.

I had a good time sketching.  But what I'll remember from that day was how sitting and listening as I sketched gave me a whole difference experience of that place. 

I think we all need to just sit and listen a bit more in this world. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blog Hop: My Creative Process

So many of us love to see each other's creative processes.  It's inspirational and instructive, isn't it?  There's a blog hop going to share creative process details, and my friend Helen Conway tagged me to answer the following questions. (You can see her post here.)  You can follow the links at the end to to see others who've shared their creative processes too.  

What am I working on?

Well, as usual, I have a bunch of different projects going.  I tend to think of the concept of "working on" something as a fairly loose one, so it includes projects that I'm actively spending time on plus a few extra that are percolating in my mind.

I've not had a lot of quilt projects on the front burner lately.  I finished this art quilt recently, after it sat in my closet for literally years.  But at some point I realized how to solve the problem that had stumped me -- how to make the roses for this rose bush-- so it was fun and satisfying to actually get it finished.

I have a more traditional quilt in progress, too ... Well, if you consider  "sandwiched and sitting on the sewing machine ready to be quilted" as "in progress" which I do.  I can't tell you how many days over the past few weeks I've planned to get to quilting on it as soon as I finish the morning's chores... And then the day gets away from me, and there it still sits.  Ah well, it won't fly away.
(Har har har, see that is a flying geese quilt?!  Hilarious, aren't I?)

I've actually been spending more time working on sketching than quilting in recent months.  I'm enjoying the process of developing my drawing skills and learning new things all the time, and I continue to amaze myself at how just DOING it helps me get better.  I've been on a recent kick drawing bits of plants from my garden. I have to say that one of the things I love about sitting down to sketch something is that it's done pretty immediately.  It's great for immediate gratification purposes, especially compared to the process of making a quilt.

and more... 

and more.

I've written here about how the process of learning to sketch has taught me a lot of interesting and surprising things about myself -- not the least of which is I CAN LEARN THIS!  (I thought it was a matter of either having the talent, or not.  But no.  It's a learnable skill.  Brenda Swenson, an artist I admire tremendously, recently said something that really struck me:  The talent you need to have is the willingness to learn and persistence.  It's so true.  But one thing I've learned is that I love drawing buildings.... trying to figure out the perspective, drawing the little details....I love it.  Who knew?! 
Another project on the "in process" pile is an exploration into crossing the sketching over into quilting.  I had this sketch printed on fabric via, and I'm going to try quilting it as a whole cloth quilt and see how it turns out. 

Funnily enough, I've recently returned to making books -- something I did a lot of almost 20 years ago.  I used to teach making book, in fact.  But then I got burned out after a lot of teaching, and I went through a "but what are they FOR" crisis with the artist books I was making and exhibiting, and I veered off into quilting.  But sketching seems to inevitably lead to the search for the perfect sketchbook, which got me into messing about with making my own sketchbooks and some very fun collagey books I call Jumbly Journals. 

One of the things I'm enjoying about making these is that they combine a whole lot of things I love:  books, sewing, paper, collage, journaling, and I even incorporate sketches on some pages, too.
Here's a glimpse of some pages from a trip I took a few months back to Poulsbo, Washington.  I journalled on the back of that big postcard and that funny photo.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That may be the sort of question others would be better answering -- it's sort of like trying to describe one's own style.  It's more easily visible to others, I suppose.  But I have learned to relax and not worry about what sets my work apart from anyone else's, because I figure it'll become apparent because the work is MINE.  One interesting aspect about sketching is that I have become a lot more comfortable with just drawing the way I do, and embracing the resulting wonkiness as part of my own voice right now.  The sketches, or the quilts, or whatever else I produce, shows my tastes and choices and skills ... and even if it's quirky and not perfect, it's mine, and that's a good thing.

Why do I write/create what I do?

If you're a creative person, you've probably had someone say to you, "But how do you find the time?" And if you're like me, the answer has something to do with the fact that creativity is just essential.  It's kind of like oxygen.  I can't NOT do creative things because it's too important to me.  

And another part of the answer to this is that I'm all about the fun.  I am lucky that I can earn money in other ways and don't have to make my art about generating income.  That means that I'm doing this just for me.  And mostly, I'm making art -- whether through quilts or sketches or books -- to relax and have fun and play with colors and fabrics and papers and paints.  When I find myself feeling like I'm doing something because I HAVE to, whether because of a deadline, or some external factor, I look hard at how and why I put myself in that position.   

So, I don't make quilts about political messages or sketch scenes that I don't find attractive.  I admire that others do that and can use their art to communicate difficult messages.  I deal with those subjects in my work and through other avenues.  But the creative part is for my enjoyment, so Me, I'm just in it for fun.

How does your writing/creative process work?

I don't have any one process. But probably the common denominator is that something visual will inspire me.  Sometimes it's color.  Sometimes it's a piece of fabric.  Sometimes it will be an idea in my head that leads me to pull out fabrics or start thinking about colors... But I think it starts with the visual concept first.  

I don't really have one type of quilt methodology because I tend to make all sorts of types of things.  So sometimes I start with a photo that I want to translate into fabric.  Sometimes I start with fabric and start pinning it up onto my design wall to see what happens.  

With sketching, I've been known to sit myself somewhere -- where ever there's a bench or a cafe table, say -- and the look around for something to sketch that interests me or presents a challenge.  

I used to get myself worried that I must not be an Artist because I didn't have ONE method or style that defined my work, or ONE medium I was obsessed with mastering, or ONE coherent body of work that looked like it went together.  I thought I had to find my ONE magical, perfect process and then that's what I'd do to produce beautiful work and I'd be happy for the rest of my life.  But I think I've determine that it's not going to work like that, for me at least.  So I'm quite happy just trying different things and going as the mood strikes me.  In "artist-speak" I guess you'd call that "intuitive."  But I just call it doing what I feel like when I feel like it.  

I'd love to see your comments about how you approach your process, and whether you battle with perfectionism, or the belief that you had to do things a certain way, or develop a certain style...  

For more great blogging on the creative process, check out my friend Terry Grant's blog next Monday -- she'll be posting about her creative process!  And here are some links to other artists who have described their processes, too:

Rayna Gillman
Gerrie Congdon
Susan Lenz
Jeannine at Distilled from Stars

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So Long, James Garner

Last night, I was in the mood to watch a good movie, and after casting about among the popular movies available through my pay-per-view cable provider, I switched over to Netflix to find an older movie that would suit my mood. Shopping through the weird array of current movies made me crave reliable, good acting, a plot with some depth maybe.  And almost immediately I settled on a "Twilight," a 1998 movie starring Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene and Hackman.

Somehow I'd missed this back when it came out.  (Let's see. Miss C was 2.  We were moving from New England to California in 1998.  That explains it -- not a lot of movie-watching going on back then.)

It was a terrific movie, better than the 2 stars Roger Ebert gave it in the review I linked above.  Maybe it just suited my mood -- a slow pace, a delicious film noir sensibility, the scenes of LA and the Sarandon/Hackman celebrity couple with Reese Witherspoon as their spoiled, cynical daughter, Paul Newman as a comfortably jaded retired PI.  It felt like a trip to another era -- you know, when movies were really good and actors really acted.  (Goodness, I'm sounding old and cranky.  I've just not seen a really great current movie in a while.  Recommendations welcome below!)

At any rate, when I started the movie I'd focused on Newman and Sarandon and Hackman.  So when James Garner ambled onto the screen (and he has just a perfect amble, doesn't he?) I was surprised. I'd not realized he was in the movie.  And I felt such a rush of pleasure, like having an old friend appear at the door after a long absence.  I've always loved him -- and he's so likable.  As Paul Newman's long-time private eye buddy, he was perfect.

And then this morning, I woke to the news that James Garner died last night. Weirdly synchronistic, and terribly sad... but I was glad I'd spent last night with him, in a manner of speaking.

So I've been thinking about how I've enjoyed James Garner in so many films and shows over the year.  I feel a James Garner movie marathon coming on to re-watch some of my favorites:

Move Over, Darling (movie, with Doris Day)
The Thrill of it All (another with Doris Day)
The Americanization of Emily (oh, a wonderful, wonderful movie with Julie Andrews)
The Rockford Files
Murphy's Romance (with Sally Field)

Scanning James Garner's filmography on IMDB, I see there are quite a few movies of his that I've not seen.  Looks like I've got my movie watching taken care of for a while.

*** Oh dear.  It has just occurred to me that I may have cause for serious concern. This past week, I took delivery of an amazing comfortable LaZBoy recliner.  Am I destined to sit in it, trolling for old movies and fussing that "they don't make 'em like that any more?"  I'd better find some good current movies, fast.    Which begs another question: who is current film equivalent of actors like Paul Newman and James Garner and Jimmy Stewart?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How well do you know the trees in your backyard?

When I moved into the house I'm living in now, it was brand new and the backyard was a huge expanse of bare dirt.  It was a few years before we could afford to put anything back there, and when it finally came time to landscape, I researched and worked with my landscape guy and chose trees that suited the clay soil and the warm California climate.  Some the professionals planted, and some I bought as tiny babies and planted myself.  Now, some 12 years later, most of the trees are very big and it all looks lush and green and the yard is well- screened and shaded.  I feel such a connection to the trees out there, as if they are children I've been watching and nurturing.  We have a bond.

So in the Sketchbookery class I'm doing with Mary Ann  Moss (which is a whole lot of fun, let me tell you), when she suggested doing a plant field study this week, I knew immediately I'd do a page about the trees in the yard.  This morning at 7am I was outside in my bathrobe clipping a leaf or two off of each tree, and I sketched and painted while I sipped my morning coffee.  I knew the names of the trees but had to look up the latin names ... and learned, along the way, that the Gingko tree is reputed to be one of oldest trees (if not THE oldest tree) on earth.  Isn't that amazing and surprising? I would have guessed something more piney.  

Anyway, I had a lovely hour of painting and a special bit of time getting acquainted again with my trees.  

Maybe next I'll take a look at the shrubs out there... they quietly do their little background job and I should give them some recognition, too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Four-Legged Sort of Sunday

It's been a long time since I've spent all day at a horse show. But yesterday was one of those days -- a long, hot, dusty day, but loads of fun nonetheless.  I went with Miss C and her riding buddies from the local barn where she rides to a schooling show in the area.  Schooling shows are designed for novice riders and horses so everything is very flexible and forgiving and the judges act more like coaches who want to see every rider succeed.  I had a great time playing the role of Team Red Photographer -- here's how the day looked:

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Monday, July 07, 2014

We're all just looking for water

The other day, I scanned a page from my notebook to send to my friend Helen.  I was about to crop the scan down to the part with just the sketches, when I noticed the little specks  on the white page opposite my sketches.  Huh?  

I looked at the sketchbook.  The page was pristine. Could I have gotten ink or other marks on the scanner? I opened to look.

ACK!  Those weren't marks. They were ANTS!  ACK!

We're having quite the drought here in northern California, and on top of that the last few days have been very hot.  It's not that unusual to get the occasional ant invasion during hot summer weather -- after all, they're just looking for water, too.  


So I did what anyone would do.  I got out the ant spray and the ant stakes and I sprayed and cleaned and then, just to be sure, wiped it all down with a bleach solution (yes, even the inside of the scanner). 

A few hours later, I found an intrepid line of ants venturing across the backsplash in the kitchen, heading determinedly toward the bowl of peaches on the counter.  DOUBLE ACK!

More ant traps, more bleach.  And more bleach.  Because, you know, I cook food there.   
 And then I memorialized it with a quick sketch in my sketchbook.  Isn't that what you would do?

Friday, July 04, 2014

Working Smoothly So Far

You know how every once in a while you can be surprised at how very well something works?  Well, that's what I'm experiencing these days.

I've always liked having fruit smoothies for breakfast in the summertime, as does Miss C.  Our blender is rather erratic, so I started researching juicers and smoothie makers and was getting a bit overwhelmed by the options and price ranges (those Vitamix things look good but it hardly seems worth $400 to me.)  And while I was in that research mode, I happened upon an infomercial for the NutriBullet "Superfood Nutrition Extractor"!!!  (Those exclamation points are so that you hear the voice of the infomercial announcer loudly exclaiming the wonder of this thing.)

I'm very good at resisting informercials.  I don't even watch them and if I stumble upon them, I click over to something else.  But I paused, because this was the very thing I was researching.  I watched.  Then got online and compared and researched.  This Nutribullet item seemed like it would do everything I wanted it to do, and the price was reasonable, and the reviews from users were very positive.  So there came a moment where I said "what the heck, let's just try it" and I sent off my order.

It came about a week ago.  And since then, I've made a smoothie a day for me and Miss C, and I am loving this thing.  The photo up top is the smoothie I made this morning.  It has spinach, fresh pineapple, strawberries, blackberries, and vanilla yogurt.  And its delicious.  The benefit of this (over some others or over a regular blender) is that it is supposed to blend some of the bits you'd normally leave out -- the seeds in grapes, or certain peels.  It claims to grind up healthy nuts and seeds so you can incorporate those, too.  Me, I'm starting with baby steps and basic fruits.  But I can report that it chewed up the blackberries completely and there aren't any of those teeny berry seeds that can ruin a silky, creamy texture.  It also handled the core of the fresh pineapple without any problem.

I consider myself rather brave for throwing in the spinach.  I actually love the taste of spinach, but I'm wary of drinks that look like brown sludge.  I'm thinking that I need to get an opaque cup so that if I do create a brown sludge, I won't mind so much.

So I'm rather pleased with myself.  I found just what I was looking for and it's working as advertised.  I'm waiting for the magic energy they claim will follow from drinking a smoothie a day, but hey, it could kick in at any minute.   Meanwhile, I'm liking these midmorning drinks.  Here's to a smooth summer!

* By the way, in case you think I've been sounding like I'm one big advertisement because I've been reviewing stuff, rest assured that I'm  just trying to get back to blogging more regularly and so I'm starting with talking about stuff that's on my mind and I want to share.  So yep, I'll get back to what I'm making and doing but I thought I'd talk about the good things I've been discovering, too.