Thursday, December 31, 2015

Small Potatoes, Big Fun for the Easily Amused

Really, these tiny sweet potatoes are so much fun to hold, play with, and paint.  At first they all look alike;  then you begin to see their features, and by the time they're finished, you can tell them apart easily and have even begun to give them names:  Little Wounded, Hairy, Baby, Fat Boy, Banana, Fish, Gourd Shaped, and Teenie.  Yes, I am easily amused.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Experiments with Dice: Lab Notes

At the top is rainy day Jesse, giving up on ever getting outside again, it seems, and making the most of his inside tenure.  All the rest of these are my experiment notes made while designing a five-sided die (made of Sculpy) that would work so that every side could come up.  I made some others last week, but discovered that only a couple of the sides ever landed facing up.  Today I recorded by drawing  the position of the die after each toss.  Happily, after a few adjustments in the angles of some of the faces, I finally achieved a die that will land on all five faces.  6221:  hare;  6222:  cat;  6223: bear;  6224:  hare again;  
6225:  penguin;  6226:  bird.  The stamp prints are from the stamps I used to incise and ink the figures on the die.  Tomorrow I will bake the die and then polish it a bit.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wrapping Up the Twig Inventory

This is it-- the handful of twigs that I grabbed while slipping and slopping along trails that have turned to rushing creeks with piles of tossed wet leaves curling along their banks.  There was an actual pond at one point where the slope had flattened out for a few feet.  The saturated soil has loosened around tree trunks so much that an enormous oak has tipped up out of the ground with its roots waving and its crown crashed across several other trees.  Many of these twigs are starting to leaf out a bit.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Holiday Catch-Up

Just before everyone arrived the evening of the 23rd I went outside in the gloomy dusk and saw that our Lenten Rose/ hellebores was blooming away as though it were February.  A bunch of them made a beautiful centerpiece.  Earlier in the day while doing a little last minute cleaning of the bathrooms I had decided to dump the ancient seashell collection into a sinful of water to spruce it up a little.  Fun to find some from the mid-eighties when we went to the Outer Banks.
I didn't do any drawing on the 25th, but on the 26th while we were all having a great and beer-filled lunch downtown at the Biergarten I sketched parts of people's lunches.  Excellent walnut, pear, gorgonzola and carmelized onion pizza!  

Some attempts at drawing my twin brothers while they were eating/talking/looking up at a TV screen.

After lunch we all walked around downtown, and in Sensibilities I found the scent I've been searching for since I first smelled it in 2000.  This luscious silky rosemary and  eucalyptus soap brings me right back to the day we arrived with students in a little village in Tuscany and I went up to our bedroom in the large villa we were renting and stood on the cool terra-cotta tiles in the shade of the shuttered room at bright midday and opened the top drawer of a very old, heavy, wood chest of drawers and smelled the fresh linens in that drawer.  Nothing has ever smelled that good and full of promise.  This soap comes very close, so of course I bought it.

The next morning we all went walking through the golden bamboo grove, and one of my brothers and I sketched the grove details.  Shortly after that we checked out the chickens.
Yesterday afternoon those of us who were still together went to the Folk Art Center, and I had a great time drawing in the archives/museum section while everyone else wandered around the place.  At bottom left is a dress made of homespun linsey-woolsey.
My favorite thing in the museum-- this gate with five roughly-carved figures.  The whole holiday was spectacular!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Shelter at Midwinter; Five-Sided Dice

M and I squeezed in a solstice hike this afternoon in between rain showers.  We went up Jones Mountain to an overlook, where we caught some feeble sunlight, but sunlight nevertheless.  Then we headed down the overgrown path that we have taken before to get to a shelter.  I painted these three from photographs that I took for reference.  On the right is sunset at 2:30 PM from below the ridge and through the trees.  Officially the sun was not setting until 5:35 or so, but from where we were at this point it was already slipping behind the nearby mountain top.  On the right are two sketches of the shelter, which has picked up some holes where leaf packing seems to have blown off, but the shelter is still standing, and its underpinnings seem sturdy.
Tonight I made some Sculpey dice and stamped my totem prints on them.  I'm not completely happy with the way the dice work, but I like the way the stamps print on the fired clay.  I won't be doing much on them for the next week-- company coming tomorrow and staying through the weekend, but next week I'll get back on this project.

I may not get to post this week but will keep drawing; and if I don't post, I'll do a catch-up next week.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Totem Animal Carvings and Prints

Veering off the topic of the woods in the dark days around solstice, today's collection consists of tiny drawings of simplified versions of the five animals my collaborator and I have decided to use as the totem animal possibilities.  My plan is to make a five-sided die out of Sculpy and print the animals; then I'll lightly incise them and then bake the Sculpy to make what I hope will turn out to be a bone-like die with an animal on each face.  On the far left are the five carved rubber blocks;  in the middle are my sketches, which I then drew onto the blocks;  on the right are the prints.  The animals are penguin, rabbit, bear, cat, and bird.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More of the Slumbering Woods

 Buds , like seeds, generally sleep protected by their scales through the winter.  I never gave a thought to the twigs of trees until I took a nature study course in college and had to build a dichotomous key to use in identifying trees based on their winter twigs.  Fascinatingly complex!  Those tightly wrapped buds must get their cues from the light and not the temperature or they would all be unfurling this winter.  I identified these using a dichotomous key from a winter tree finder book.

At the bottom of this page are two twigs that have flowers blooming in mid-winter.  The leather-leaf mahonia on the left usually blooms in early February here, but its yellow buds look poised to pop open.  The heather always blooms all winter here, which made me curious about what pollinates it.  The answer:  along with a number of bees, moths, ants, and other insects, the wind pollinates it and also scatters the hundreds of seeds from each tiny blossom.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Seeds at Solstice, Deep Dreamy Time

I scooped up a handful of pods and seeds from the back porch table this afternoon.  It's icy and windy today as befits a day just before winter solstice, and I wanted to check on the seeds.  The water pickerel that I cut in half last fall is popping seeds out, each looking like a glossy miniature eggplant. The ones that got sliced in half are mildewing, whereas the intact seeds are firm and glossy, which tells me that the deep aubergine skin is waterproof and protects the inner parts of the seed.  The spiky pod has spewed all of its small black seeds, which now lie in the bottom of the bowl.  The shiny black bee-bee-like seeds are still attached to a central stalk, but the outer petals of the flower have long since turned transparent and brittle and have fallen off.

Joining the seeds and pod fragments are two Femo clay faces made by a woman at the Delany fair.  She uses them as faces on spirit dolls that she makes, and she sold me these two dreamy ones that are like the sleeping seeds in deepest dark winter.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Meeting Notes

Drawing people, especially people that I know well and who are not holding frozen still, is a most interesting challenge.  I'm trying to discern the minimum number of marks that will give sufficient information. 
I stopped after a few pen strokes on the upper left because that was all that seemed necessary.  Nothing kills a drawing like overworking it.  I always remember my first art school drawing teacher's constant exhortation: ' If the nose is giving you trouble, work on something else;  never attack a problem directly;  change the environment and the problem will solve itself.' To which he would add:  'And that is true in all of life.'

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Working Out the Game

I like the idea of each metal game piece being empowered by the totem it ends up wearing.  Totems are determined by a throw of the dice.
 The totem consists of a paper headpiece that shows from the front and a paper back piece that hangs down in back.
Here are some ideas for the dice.  I want the dice to be made of Femo or possibly air-dried clay built around a small stone or chicken vertebra.  The qualities of the totem give movement possibilities to the figures as they move around the board.  Another set of dice determines how many spaces a figure can move;  when the figure lands on a space, what the figure does next is determined by its particular totem.  Next job is to figure out the game board.  All of this is, of course, subject to input from and discussion with my collaborator.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Middle School Hair and a Good Paleo Dessert

Sitting in the back row at Maya's middle school band recital this afternoon I started drawing the hairdos, since that's what I could see best from my perch in the dark.  The bright pink at middle left is actually a knitted hat.  Maya is at upper right, playing her flute in recital for the first time.  She is easy to spot since she has dyed her hair light blue in the front.
More hairdos, and on the right, a recipe if you love apple crisp but don't love consuming all that brown sugar.  I found this recipe in a Paleo magazine and modified it to get rid of half the maple syrup.  I used red delicious apples, which are sweet enough on their own without the cloying sweetness of added sugar, natural or refined.  It's easy to make and tastes so good that even sugar lovers love it;  and if anyone needs more sugar, it's easy to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the top.  It has no gluten either, if gluten is a thing you avoid.  Instead of flour it has almond meal.  You can use coconut oil or unsalted butter in the topping, and next time I make it I will cut the maple syrup even more,  from 1/4 cup to 1/8 cup.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nothing Much-- Drawings from the Car Line Mostly

I spent a large portion of this afternoon in my car, the first part of which consisted of sitting in the car line at Maya's school.  There's really not much to see from the car line.  I tried to find exciting and interesting things to draw, and luckily the house that I was idling next to had put some ornaments on a tree in their yard and even on their chain link fence.  The house itself is mildly interesting, bermed in the hillside as it is, with a crooked little chimney that looks like it was built out of cinder blocks and balanced on the roof peak.
Later at home I saw a pretty sickle moon just at perfect twilight, caught in the branches of a big tree across the street.  Maya and I had bought a challah for dinner, and here it is in all its eggy glory before we three devoured it with chicken patties and lettuce and tomatoes and clementines..

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lovely Roasted Vegetables

P made roasted vegetables for us tonight.  They smelled delicious while they were cooking, but I was not enthusiastic about actually eating them, since they included a number of vegetables that I generally push to the side of the plate:  red onions, roasted garlic, capers, cherry tomatoes.  I could not imagine chewing a piece of garlic that still had its skin on.  I wanted large baguettes and butter on which to spread the insides of the garlic pods if I were going to eat them.  I wanted the capers to be discretely hidden under a steak of some kind, simply lending a subtle flavor, but not having their little green beebee selves chewed and swallowed.

Politely I poked my fork into one of the sweet potatoes, one of the few of these things that I trusted. Not bad, actually rather good, and so I kept on going.   I was astonished at how good these unpromising things tasted!  At the end of the meal I found myself popping a while garlic pod into my mouth and chasing it with a few capers and that slightly burnt curling onion sliver.  Even the rosemary was perfect, the parsnips sublime.  Everything was perfectly roasted and brushed with a lemon, olive oil, and caper vinaigrette-- not harsh or dry or bitter at all!  I drew the last few things on my plate, and as I drew I popped them into my mouth.  The garlic half looked like a lotus pod.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Serfs; Reds

Maya's sixth grade put on a Medieval Fair today as the culminating event of their unit on the Medieval period.  On the left are a boy serf sitting down in the middle of the floor before everything began, and Maya in her serf's costume.  Each child sat at a table with examples of tools, food, crafts, weapons,  and clothing appropriate to his or her rank or job;  during the fair the children answered questions about their position in the Medieval world.  As a serf Maya had a loaf of very dark bread, some root vegetables, and some herbs in front of her and answered questions about how the Black Death had affected her, what she did all day,  her relationship to the lord and his family, what her house was like, etc.  Excellent!

On the right are two more of the little hanks of wool, the top one in cadmium red and the bottom in crimson.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tiny Hanks of Yarn; Animal Head Charlottes and a Link to Their History!

 These four small hanks of wool yarn contain 8 yards each, enough to shoot a row of bright color through the rather boring infinity scarf that I'm slowly knitting while "teaching" Lindsay and Maya to knit, leaning heavily on YouTubes.  Lindsay has already finished hers and it is gorgeous.  Maya is racing along and using wonderful colors.  I went wandering over to the yarn store downtown on my walk this afternoon and was very excited to find these for 69 cents each.  I bought 8, each a slightly different intensity of the same basic three hues.
And here are today's totem animal heads and their charlottes.  If you haven't any idea what the charlottes are and you want to know, go to this link.  My charlottes are real charlottes but were factory rejects from a factory in Dresden, a fact that greatly enhances their poignancy, in my opinion.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Totem Animals and Charlottes; BPAC Meeting Notes

Here are totem animals and Charlottes from last night.  I'm liking the way the charlottes wear their totem animal heads.
All the charlottes basically look alike;  so it's interesting to give them different animals based on their subtle differences.  On the right above are meeting notes from tonight's Book and Print Arts Collective meeting.  One of the members was teaching us how to spin shifu paper thread (with secret messages embedded).
This secret message business appeals very much to me.  I have made the thread before but tonight we talked about actually sending someone a message and having them unweave and unspin to reconstruct the message.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Floodscapes, Ominous Light

 Walking along the recently flooded west River Trail late this afternoon I am most interested in the shapes, shadows, and light as they shift and reconfigure constantly.  There seem to me to be three colors-- ochre for the dead grasses, Payne's grey for medium shadows, and blackish green for the deep shadows and looming clouds
I sketch the four squashed-together scenes while walking past and through them;  the two on the bottom require a pause along the trail.  It is very dramatic with the light, the sky, the shadows, and the rain-swollen river racing past.  A new trail has been deposited on top of the old one in places:  whole deposits of brown leaves have been washed away and in their place is now river sand.  The trail-side vegetation (grass and wild onions mostly) is bent almost flat in places and looks like hair with comb tracks.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Pocketful of Seeds

I know the pod on top is from an agave plant, and the three triangular seeds fell from that pod.  The others are mysteries that somehow ended up in my coat pocket and survived the trip home, where they ended up on my drawing table.  Not the most exciting post , I know, but as usual, a great joy to look at and draw.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

In Which Kate Poses, Grooms, Smiles, Yawns

Kate is D and H's small mop-like dog.  She's a cute dog, but she has a sharp, piercing bark when she wants attention.  I'm not completely comfortable around dogs, but I've grown to really like Kate.  I can scratch her tiny pointy head and she doesn't try to bite like Jesse does;  I can pick her up and she squirms and scrabbles but never scratches.  As a non-dog-fan I'm clueless about breeds of dogs, and I'm not even good at recognizing dogs.  Today Kate and I were alone in the house for a while, so I decided to really look at her, and the best way for me to do that is to draw her.  At first she looked like a mop head.

 Then she fell asleep, and I had the chance to really study her.  I noticed that her long wavy fur parts into little sections over her ears.  When she woke up she stared at me for a few seconds and I was able to sketch her face with my eyes and I noticed her straight, shelf-like bangs that D cut the other night while we were visiting.  I also saw her collar pendant.

When she started grooming, she looked like Jesse only a bit less elegant.  Jesse stretches out his rear leg like the yogi that he is;  but Kate kind of buries her head over her stubby little back leg with her other three legs splayed out.  She looked up and smiled, and that is something Jesse has never done.  Finally she unhinged her jaw and made a tremendous yawn, baring her overshot lower front teeth.  The last and only other time that I drew Kate she was wearing her wedding dress and dancing with L.  She was all mine today, and I really enjoyed seeing her.

Friday, December 4, 2015


I made these little stuffed dolls a few years ago to go in a boat for a show in which the curator wanted the work to be done in an unfamiliar medium.  For me at that time, working in three dimensions was new.   Now I'm starting a collaboration with a friend across the world, and these little dolls with their totem animals on their backs may be the seed to something new and unfamiliar.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Paperwhites: Antique Marbles

It's that paperweight time of year, but this year's single bulb is slow to do anything.  It has been sitting for over a week in its little pot of daily-misted soil.  I think these things do better in a shallow bed of stones and water.

I love these old marbles from an antique store in Goshen, Indiana.  They're made of some kind of rough ceramic and look like miniature globes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Garbage Night Painting

Tonight is going to be our weekly garbage night, and in preparation I was pulling some past-the-eat-by-date fruit out of the fridge.  It made me think of the creepily lush17th century Dutch still life paintings of decaying food.  According to Simon Schama in his wondrous book The Embarrassment of Riches, these paintings, called desegregation (unfortunately this keyboard has no accent marks for the e's) or "coming apart,"  are meditations on the constant flux and movement of life even in death.  So here are two limes on their way to turning back into soil and then into some other plant and four grapes on their way to fermenting in the compost heap and turning into the insects that get a little drunk on their winey juice----