Trying Something New with Something Old

Dear Liza,

I always like trying something new.


I have been making Art Journals with Ruth Inman for a while, using cracker boxes and other leftovers for covers. But the other day when I found this really old, falling-apart literature book, I thought …. Why not use ITS cover as a cover?


First, I helped the book finish falling apart, trimming the cover and selected pages with an Exacto knife. I saved the very old 2nd place ribbon I found inside. The handwritten inventory numbers and check-out pocket touched my librarian’s heart, so I made sure they were safe. I found one of my favorite poems, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Rhodora”, among the anthologized works, and saved it, as well as old illustrations.


Lovely, historic insides

I grabbed a yellow printed fabric from my box, thinking the texture looked like old alligator skin. Once I had it glued onto the cover, however, it became clear that I had mis-judged. It was too light. I resisted the urge to tear it off and decided to highlight the texture and darken the effect with some acrylic paint. It was better.

Improving the spine fabric

Sewing the signatures in

I stiffened the spine with some card stock, then laid in the inside fabric. I made four ‘signatures’ (sets of pages) and pierced the spine carefully to sew the signatures in.

A new book from an old book!

Since the book was printed in 1932, I plan to use it as a journal for my research and ponderings on history. I have been researching English and French history, and am now looking into the many places where they intersect. I am also curious about how they interacted with the Holy Roman Empire and, further away, the many dynasties of the Chinese Empire.

This historic, hand-made journal will give me a place, and an inspiration, to collect these thoughts, as well and other brain bits that pop up.

The Inspiration….

“Tell them dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for being.”

Love,

Grandma Judy

Hopeful Collage

Dear Liza,

I have been having so much fun experimenting with mixed media! Putting watercolors, other paints, and collage together to tell about a feeling, or a day, just makes so much sense to me.

This piece is from Easter weekend. When I was out walking, I thought about how all springs are new beginnings. But THIS spring, with vaccines making us safer, we are being released from Covid captivity in addition to our cold winter isolation. This spring feels especially free-ing.

I collected some bits from my collage box, including candy wrappers and the little paper sleeve that was wrapped around my ice cream cone from the new Dairy Hill Creamery, down on Hawthorne.


I knew I wanted the ‘sad’ side on the left and the ‘happy’ side on the right, so I put some watercolors down for a first layer.

To show more clearly what made the sad side so sad, I stenciled and collaged some Covid-looking circles, and even spelled ‘Covid’ out in letters. Moving on from the sad, I laid down an ice cream cone wrapper bridge over a river made from a chocolate-wrapper bit of tinfoil.

I needed a happy side to be bright, so I stenciled a sun in a variety of yellows. The city is cut from an on-sale art paper from Collage art supplies. The bird was on a birthday card. The ‘JOY’ balloons are also from the ice cream wrapper.

To finish it off, I outlined the balloons and letters, and gave some detail to the sun. And to remember that this happened on Easter, I put some pretty eggs by the bridge.

Giving it a critical look, I realize that I made the water under the bridge wrong. But overall, I am pleased with the piece. It captures how I was feeling and incorporates bits of the day. I hope you have fun doing art this week!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Busy Easter

Dear Liza,

Easter Sunday wasn’t as warm or sunny as the day before had been, but it was still nice enough to get out for some fun.

After French practice and crosswords, Auntie Bridgett and I walked by our allotment to see how the seeds are doing. We have sprouts! The radishes and lettuces are sending up tiny green baby bits and I am so excited! I will come by tomorrow with the watering can to make sure they stay nice and moist.

We continued through the neighborhood, past pink drifts and blizzards of cherry blossoms, to the Pix-O-Matic on Burnside. Pix is a fancy French style patisserie. Due to Covid, they have installed high end vending machines to sell their pastries, but also Candy, toys, and odd bits of niftiness. We got a small collection of Easter candies and a pastry called a Shazam to have after dinner. Noticing that Kopi coffee was open, we stopped by and had interesting and delicious Ginger and cardamom coffees, and a blueberry scone. We sat at a tiny table on the sidewalk, watching and listening to all the humanity…..conversations, buses going by, car radios. It was nice to be OUT.

We got home and put the goodies away, did some art, and had lunch. Then Grandpa Nelson joined us and we walked way up into the Laurelhurst neighborhood, loving the spring flowers and blossoms on the hundred year old trees.

We got back in mid-afternoon and it was time to start dinner. I was cooking lamb shanks for the first time, and wanted to give myself time to do it right. Shanks tend to be tough, and need low and slow cooking. I used a recipe from The Spruce Eats online, and they turned out wonderfully! Tender, rich and yummy. I made mint sauce out of our mint from the garden, and it made the lamb even better! Hooray! I love learning how to make new delicious things!

Lamb shanks on the table, decorated with Pam Ferraschi’s ceramics

We remembered to save room for the Pix desserts, however. Shazam is an almond cake with caramel and mousse under a paper thin chocolate wrapping. Delicious!

And THEN it was time for my zoom visit with you, Liza. We chatted, giggled, and drew Easter eggs and bunnies. I showed you the collage I’ve been working on (more about that tomorrow) and visited with your mommy and daddy.

We finished off the busy day with “Escape from the Chateau” and working on a new jigsaw puzzle, and headed for bed.

Not bad for an ‘isolated’ Easter.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Still Growing, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Last summer, a few months after the Covid shutdown, I started painting with an online group organized by Ruth Inman. It made sense that we should start painting with flowers…. who doesn’t like flowers?

Step by step watercolor Cornflowers

My skills weren’t very good, and I was scared of making mistakes, but being with an old friend put me at ease. The tremor in my hand got in the way a bit, but I’d just power through, realizing that the wiggly lines could be just part of the picture. Flowers don’t have straight lines, anyway.


Wacky candy wrapper collage

As the year passed, Ruth would give us challenges to use different materials, like candy wrappers or other recycled papers. These let me realize that ART didn’t have to mean making a perfect painting every time. The making, the process, was the main thing. If other people liked it when you were done, that was a bonus. But it was not the main goal.

Fun with Acrylics

Realizing that, I got more confident. I also came to understand that different media work in different ways. Watercolors always show through, so planning is crucial. Acrylics are more forgiving and will cover up mistakes. Collage needs a careful hand but is amazingly freeing. And all of these can be used in the same piece, if you like!


This is my new favorite, a remembering of a drive along the Willamette. As I sat on a bench looking at Mt. Hood far away across the river, I planned out how I would construct it. Watercolors for the sky and ground, THEN the distant mountain (out of a bit of Kleenex box), THEN the flowers/ trees in front of it, then the river and dogs. I found the note in the sky folded up in our picnic table, and wanted to include it.

Close up!

I built up from the background to the foreground, and was pleased with how it turned out. The snow on the mountain is a tiny bit of Posca marker.

I’ve learned a lot this year. Mostly, I learned that I am still learning, which is a good thing.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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

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

Seasonal Inspiration

Dear Liza,

Spring…

I started painting this spring. It made sense to paint flowers because are a pleasant, familiar image and, the way I did them, pretty simple. I had not realized that I was painting flowers BECAUSE it was spring. (Yes, sometimes I am a little dense.)

Into summer

This weekend I looked back at my paintings as the seasons shifted. Even when not working from a seasonal prompt, the pictures kept progressing.

Fall, creeping up….


And the latest batch have accidentally proven my point. My spring flowers have given way to frozen landscapes. I have not set out, in most of these pieces, to make a picture of the season. I sit down, look my paints, and pick what appeals to me. I guess my brain is more connected to the wet, dark Oregon winter than I thought. Winter has certainly arrived, and I am feeling it heavily this year.


Maybe today I will try and find spring again, if only in my art, and paint a flower. Or would that would be out of synch, like wearing shorts in the snow?

And becoming Winter.

I am not sure. I have had such fun just painting what comes to mind, I don’t want to irritate the Muse. I’ll see what happens today, I guess.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Beyond Circles

Dear Liza,

When I was starting to paint this year, my goal was to make something look like I wanted, making the picture on the paper match the one in my head. I practiced with flowers and faces, going literally from finger painting to things that mostly looked… right.

Flowers that look like flowers

And now that I can do that, I am experimenting more. The circle cutter Auntie Bridgett loaned me has been my latest toy. I love circles, and am enjoying grouping them together, layering them, and even painting over them.

This week I started with some orange and blue watercolor, then lay down some softly colored circles. It sort of looked like sunset-y clouds. To make it look even cloudier, I put white acrylic paint on very softly with a textured meat tray. It was pretty, but what if…..?

I wanted to keep going with the layers. This is where I am noticing my change in attitude. Instead of thinking “what if I mess this up?”, I realize that so far I have invested a few hours of quarantine time, some old magazines, and a tablespoon of paint. So if I mess it up, NO BIG DEAL.

So I lay on another meat tray textured layer of blue, then a few more circles. I loved the layers and texture, and it was starting to whisper to me as to what it could be. Instead of making the picture in my head first, I was letting it lead me along.

I softened the colors with a bit of white acrylic and added a “hillside”of white tissue paper. The pink circle was in the right place to be a setting sun, but it needed to be more orange. A circle cut from a tea box fixed that.

After staring at what had become a snowy hillside at sunset, I saw that it needed some silhouetted trees. I studied other folks’s work and Auntie Bridgett gave me some pointers, and I went for it. After putting in some close up trees and some further away, adjusting my sky color and putting in some shadows, I am pretty happy with it….. for now. I’ll go do something else and have a look later.

So I guess my lesson of the week is to not limit myself as to “just” the pictures I see in my head. The ones that emerge on the paper can be so much more!

Love,

Grandma Judy