Layers and Layers (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

The other day I decided to see just how loosely I could start a picture. The only decision I made was ‘blue’ and ‘circles’.

I swished these down and and left them to dry. An hour later when I came back, they looked pale and flat. I gave them some darker swooshes, and, while they were damp, some splatters of plain water.

Seeing that my scheme was working, I headed to the kitchen and collected my circular implements of art…. a shot glass, a tiny bowl, a bit of Tupperware…. and a tube of chapstick.

Once the paper was completely dry, I started tracing circles in dark blue water color pencil. I wanted to lay down colors in layers, so no black. Yet.

The tracing needs a steady hand, and I did a lot of drawing, stopping, and staring. I wanted it to be interesting but not chaotic, balanced but not symmetrical. I wasn’t trying to make planets, or wheels, or anything, really. Just interesting and pleasing to my eye.

I added a few more circles, the. realized it needed contrast, so some pink and fuchsia came out of the pencil box.

It was going in a good direction. But it was still too pale. Now was the time to get the black out. Auntie Bridgett gave me a size 005 micron pen, and I used it for details.

I think I am almost there…. some more black and maybe some white to pop out a bit, maybe.

I love art! After thirty years of classroom teaching and having to be absolutely sure about everything, it is nice to say “ I don’t know how that’s going to turn out” and be okay with it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Layers and Layers (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

As I typed that title, I thought of how I am dressing nowadays, and making the bed: Layers and layers. We have had very cold nights and may even get snow tomorrow! But that’ s not what I’m writing about today.

Cool diagonal lines at the beach…

I am still learning about how to make pictures look like I want. I will usually start with some idea or shape I am inspired by.

Plus circles!

Or sometimes I just throw down some color or lines, and go from there.

One of last week’s Art Journal challenges was “Circles”, which I love. I took the diagonal lines of the abstract photo from The Coast last week and added pinkish circles. I liked it!

Better…

But when I looked again a few days later, it looked unfinished. It needed contrast. So I filled in the spaces with blue and black, and I like it better now. It might be done. Maybe. Are the planets dark enough, or should they be filled in?

I’ll let you know when I know. More about layers tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Abstract…. Reality?

Dear Liza,

You know about abstract art. It is all about shapes and colors, light and dark, and most definitely not about showing what things really look like. There is reality, and there is abstraction. They are two different things. Right?

Right.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at my photos from our trip to Fort Stevens beach and saw a whole lot of abstraction. Lines. Fragments. Blobs.

If I did the research, I could write a thousand words on the psychological connections between reality and abstraction. Some Ph.d’s undoubtedly have.

But I just wanted to show you some really pretty, interesting shapes that I will be playing with in my paintbox. And to show that the line between reality and abstraction isn’t so clear, after all.

Keep looking. Keep thinking.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!!

Dear Liza,

We have all been on edge the last few years. We had uneasy feelings brought on an unstable person in the White House. Our new President has been around for years, and we know what to expect. I have not always agreed with him, but he is, most definitely, not nuts.

A good thing to be able to say about one’s President, as it turns out.

Agile little buggers…

But you know who IS nuts? Squirrels. And January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day, so I am appreciating them.

And I love ‘em! These fluffy streaks scamper about our sidewalks, power lines and rooftops. They chatter at us from trees and shinny around trunks to stay just out of sight. They make adorable grey arches as they rainbow hop across the road.

Squirrels have helped make our Lone Fir Cemetery what it is today, their forgetfulness accidentally planting of hundreds of trees.

Squirrels can be a nuisance. They can get in attics and chew wires, not to mention making nests where they are not welcome. I’m sure they make terrible roommates.

But outside, in the park, on the roofs or lurking on the other side of a tree trunk, they are adorable.

And that’s your dose of silliness from Portland for today.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Day Away from it All

Dear Liza,

We have been very caught up in the excitement about Mr. Trump’s leaving the White House and President-Elect Biden’s inauguration. Grandpa Nelson and I have been following the news for who was getting pardoned, who was being appointed, and what was going to happen next. Maybe we were a little too focused.

So Grandpa Nelson decided we needed a day away from the computer, ipads and television. Auntie Bridgett was enlisted and we all went to the beach.

The bright day glowed as we drove west across the Tualatin Valley and into the Coastal range. The forest was a combination of blinding sun and deep shade, acting like a strobe as we zipped past. Since it was the day after the MLK holiday, traffic was light.

Since Covid has made us wary of any restaurants with only indoor seating, we went right past Camp 18, a delightful log cabin that serves enormous cinnamon rolls. In Gearhart, we found Grizzly Tuna, a tiny drive-through serving tuna and chips, fish tacos, and other (mostly) fried goodies. We grabbed some for Auntie Bridgett and me, then drove to Dairy Queen for Grandpa Nelson, and ate right in the car.

We continued up to Fort Stevens State Beach and the wreck of the Peter Iredale. This is one of my favorite places on the coast so far. The wide, flat beach is great for walking, and the long views and whipping wind are good for over-stuffed, urbanized brains. It was sparkling, chilly, and wonderful.

We did notice something we weren’t as crazy about, though. Cars on the beach. This is an historic thing on the Oregon Coast, actually. Years ago, when the roads between small towns weren’t very good, the wide, flat beach was the best route. Now that the roads are smooth and reliable, most folks use them. But driving on the beach is still allowed, and a few trucks made zipping passes as we walked along.

We walked, as my Dad would say, “until we were half tired”, and found a nice long to sit on. We didn’t talk much, just stared at the waves and the tiny sandpipers, watched Auntie Bridgett sketch, and thought non-political thoughts.

When it was time to go, Auntie Bridgett found a surprisingly heavy stick, which she immediately adopted and began dragging along. We named it Sticky and traded off walking it down the beach, pulling it along like a reluctant pet. We walked and dragged, all the way back up to the wreck of the Peter Iredale, and left Sticky there, resting against the iron ship’s remaining ribs.

We tucked into the car and followed the Columbia River home, gawking at tiny towns and enjoying glittering views of the river through bare winter trees. The sun was just going down as we pulled into Portland, got stuck in traffic on the Fremont Bridge, made a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong side of the river, and eventually got home.

What a fabulous, squinty-bright day!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Finally, A Product

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was busy! I walked down to Auntie Katie’s to deliver some cookies, made art with stencils, and got a bunch of essays edited. It felt good to be accomplishing things.

I also finished a non-dominant (lefty) piece that I started last week. . It was the most difficult so far, and it took days of on and off work. My left hand isn’t very strong and working with it is hard, so I only do about an hour at a time.

I decided to copy my photo of a bridge at Cambridge, England. The reflections and delicate windows are just beautiful.

So lovely!

I knew it was going to be hard, but easy stuff doesn’t make me smarter, and if it was horrible, I could always tear it out of the journal. I started, wiggly lines and all, feeling worse and worse about it as I went on.

Not so much…..

I was so discouraged I put it away. But after a few days I remembered Picasso’s statement that if, at some point, you don’t hate a piece, you will never make anything worthwhile. I decided to give it another chance.

Better!

I got the watercolors out and, still left handed, started adding color. Watercolor always needs layers and layers to look right, so my lazy left got a workout. That took another long afternoon of painting and drying, and painting some more. It was better! I got out the colored pencils to give some stronger edges on the bridge and bricks, and eventually was satisfied. It could stay in the journal, though I think it still needs some shading.

I used to think that if you weren’t “good enough” at art, or music, or whatever, you were ‘wasting your time’. I now know that it isn’t being good at art that is the point, it is simply the doing. What you can learn about yourself as you peer closely at things and try and make sense of them with pencil and paper are all part of understanding who you can be.

It’s a worthwhile project, I promise.

Love,

Grandma Judy

All Process, Not Much Product… Yet

Dear Liza,

It has been a fun, happy, busy weekend! I made a stencil I really like to use in my Art Journal. So far I haven’t finished with it yet, but it is showing promise.

Fun with stencils

I also started whacking away at the two dozen or so blogs I have written about our wonderful, historic Lone Fir Cemetery. I started simply copying them, then realized that with just a little tweaking, there is a story there about Portland’s history that could be worth telling. I am currently paddling in some very deep water, and enjoying it very much.

Little Ada Smith

There was also a delightful surprise purchase from Jehnee Rains, who runs Suzette, our nearby Creperie. Since she has has greatly reduced business for the ten months of quarantine, she is selling a lot of her catering supplies to raise a bit of cash and simplify her life. Auntie Bridgett saw some ‘bee’ themed bottles she wanted, and I saw cookie cutters, so we threw on clothes some and walked over.

I now have these great beauties to play with, and the cookie dough mixed for delivery to Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Score!

I also found a map of Portland I was sewing on last winter and ran out of inspiration for, which is looking more promising now.

Downtown, the Willamette, and our Sunnyside neighborhood

I feel like I’m gunning my engine at the starting line, and can’t decide which race track to run first. I need to take a breath and focus…. or not. I’m sure it will all work out.

Having fun, thinking stuff!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Happy Brain

Dear Liza,

This has been a good week for figuring stuff out. Whether that is because of the new brain exercises I have been doing or not, I think I will keep up with them. A happy brain makes a happy Grandma Judy.

Left- handed portrait of a neighbor

Drawing pictures with my non-dominant hand has made my whole body work harder. My left hand is figuring out how to hold a pencil, my right hand makes a fist, thinking she should be doing something, and my brain works overtime, making sense of the whole situation. It just seems to wake everything up!

Grandpa Nelson, enjoying the sunshine

This week I have gone on more walks. The sudden sunshine after weeks of rain is part of the reason, of course. Blinding sunshine through winter trees is just good for the soul.

Mapping out the day

But there’s more! For the Art Journal, I have made art I really like. Mapping my day as a board game and planning my ‘dream houses’ (yes, there are more than one!) have kept me happily introspective.

One dream house by the sea…

I have also figured out how to re-write my blogs so they can be printed. I sigh big sighs as I hunt up photos from years ago and cuddle up close to the feelings that they conjure.

…and one in Paris!

All of these are good things. Art, writing, figuring things out, and sunshine. I am enjoying them, but also very aware that I am using them as emotional armor against what seems like an approaching storm in our country. In the coming weeks, I am going to need all the joy I can get.

Defensive happiness. It works.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Trying to Make it Work


Dear Liza,

I have written almost 1,000 blogs since July 2017, using the WordPress.com site. I have written about Portland’s history and places to visit, as well as the joys and difficulties of everyday life here. I am now thinking of turning all this writing into small books, which could go out into the world.

I hope to compile blogs on one topic (starting with our historic Lone Fir Cemetery), print them out, and offer them for sale. Auntie Bridgett Spicer does this with her wonderful Art-O-Rama zines, collections of writings and art that she sells online and at the SideStreet Arts gallery.


The difficulty of moving my Word Press writings into any other format, in order to print them out, was my first challenge. I asked Bridgett and read Q and A pages, looking for a way to make it work. Then I found something by a knowledgable fellow who basically said, “Wordpress doesn’t want you to do this. It is made to not allow you to do this.” Hmmm. Well, then, I’ll do it another way.

So today I start doing it another way. I will hunker down and re-type my blogs about Lone Fir, using a split-screen to make sure I don’t drift too far from the originals. I will fetch my photos from Pictures and splice them in. I will tighten up language and get rid of repetition, while trying to keep the language fresh and fun.

I am excited about this new level of exposure for my writing, even though I have no idea where it may end up. As Gandalf said, “You never know what may happen, once you set foot outside your door.”

Off to write!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Insomnia

Dear Liza,

I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.

The kids, circa 2008…..

But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.

We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.

Auntie Bridgett, being a good sport

Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.

And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.

So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy