I have started an art challenge: To make a piece of art everyday for the whole month of October. My friend Ruth Inman posted a list of things to give us ideas, like ‘bread’, ‘sea creatures’, ‘salt water taffy’, and all sorts of things.
Auntie Bridgett, who is very sweet, gave me a big hardback, spiral bound notebook to use. It has nice heavy paper so I can draw, paint, or even glue things down to make a collage!
I started with decorating the cover in Fall colors. All our magazines are full of oranges and browns, so it was easy to put together. I even found a nice picture of Multnomah Falls to be right in the middle.
The first page came from my own need to make something seasonal and orange. Crayons, then watercolors, then some words, and taaa daaah!
The first of the challenges was ‘bread’. When I think of bread I go straight to a French baguette, eaten on the banks of the Seine at sunset. This piece is watercolor, colored pencils, and waterproof ink.
Ruth’s second challenge is “alcohol”, so I thought of wine enjoyed while looking out the window of a classic California winery… yummy.
The one I did this morning was my favorite so far, because it was about YOU. The actual topic was sea creatures, but I painted them at the Aquarium, with you.
I am going to take a break for the evening and not look at the challenge for tomorrow…. until tomorrow.
A few weeks ago I painted a bunch of bright orange cards. I have never really cared for orange, but with the skies dark from forest fire smoke, I needed the brightness.
And I liked it! Orange is a bright, cheerful, aggressively happy color. How had I not seen this before?
I discovered my love of orange just in time. Ruth Inman’s friend Jody Tockes ran a class where we used torn paper to make a sunflower. And guess what? More orange!
And this week, Ruth is running an “Art Journal” class, and I got inspired. Of course, the class isn’t until tomorrow, but I felt the need to get an early start.
As usual in watercolor, I was disappointed by my first layer. It looked pale and boring. But Picasso said that unless you hate a piece somewhere in the middle, you will never make something you love. So I kept at it.
I got some purple in and laid in some more layers, and liked how it was looking. I decided it needed some words, so I browsed magazines for whatever seemed appropriate.
As always with art, I’d do a little, walk away, then come back and see what it needed next. I fiddled a little bit more and was done. But that’s okay! There are lots more pages in the book!
It has been a really difficult week. Heavy smoke from the Oregon fires has kept us inside and is making everyone feel sick. The virus that President Trump ignored is still killing a thousand people a day, and our government seems determined to punish anyone who disagrees with it. It has been very hard to find any happy.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to my brother Tim (yes, I type my letters) and illustrated it with forests and smoke. It was a sad picture, but it made me feel better to put something in paper.
I gathered up my watercolors and played with some of the skills Ruth Inman has taught me in our online art group.
First, I taped the paper down, and really soaked it. While it was wet, I gave a wash of bright yellow and orange, making sure it was nice and random.
While the paper was still damp, I used a toilet paper roll to make big circles and a rolled up strip of regular paper to make small ones…. just a few. Then I let everything dry.
This next process takes the longest because you have to let things dry between layers. If you try and paint everything at once, it all runs together. Over the course of the afternoon I put in the petals and centers of the flowers.
When that layer seemed “done”, I let it all dry. Then I got out the Elegant Writer pen Ruth had sent me and put in the details of the flowers. It was fun to see the orange and yellow pop against the black lines.
And I felt better. Something about the bright colors, the creative process and the control of this little piece of paper allowed me to feel joy for the first time in days. I recommend this ‘art therapy’ to anyone feeling sad.
We will get through this and find light in the other side, I know. And art will help.
I wanted to update you about a project I have been working on for a month now. It is my painted and embroidered version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
It started out more like RLS’s desert island, but since I knew I was going to spend a lot of mental time there, I wanted it to be greener and prettier. Billy Bones went mad for a reason, you know, and I don’t need more crazy-making. I need less. So I added rivers, some real mountains, and a nice lush rain forest.
Having painted it “as a first layer”, I needed to figure out the next layer. Lay in the outlines, then stitch some mountains, then… maybe some rapids? Yes, this was coming along.
There were mistakes, of course. I put in what I thought was very cool texture that Bridgett said looked like obstacles the Germans put on the Normandy beaches on D Day, so they had to go. This led me to more organic lines, which I really like. More texture, more naturalistic colors, a weird marriage of map and landscape.
This project is giving me so much pleasure. Something to do with my hands, to work off the fidgety Evans energy during these shut-in days. A place to create and visit that is green and lush, far away from political and environmental ugliness. And the freedom to make a piece of my world, just as I like it.
More businesses are figuring out, after many long months, how to open up and still keep folks safe from the corona virus. And I am glad, because I am starting to run out of things.
My new projects take both paint and embroidery floss, since I am painting maps on fabric and then sewing over them.
Last week we walked the mile to Collage in Division Street. It is a small and nicely stocked shop, using very strict hygiene and social distancing rules. I got basic colors of acrylic paint so I can mix whatever I need.
But I also needed thread, and their selection leaned toward the neon. Not what I needed. Well, the good news is, there is another Collage! The only wrinkle is that it is four miles away, too far for a comfortable walk.
So Auntie Bridgett and I got the car out and drove to Alberta, a funky, artsy neighborhood north of us. We found the Collage Annex, with its 95% off sale, and then the shop itself. Auntie Bridgett was in her happy place, visiting all the paints, pens, and markers.
I am more goal oriented, and found my floss quickly. But it was fun wandering around, anyway. We each chose a few things, paid the happy, helpful fellow, and headed down the street. Alberta is always a lively neighborhood, with lots of street art, music, and folks out and about.
We drove up Alberta Street, happy to see that so many of the shops and cafes we like are still open. We headed for groceries and then home, so I could start using my new toys!
I don’t know where this painting and sewing thing will lead next. The time I spend sewing (and it is a slow process) lets my mind wander. But I will keep you posted.
As I have told you before, I didn’t grow up with a lot of art. It just wasn’t something my parents understood or valued. They had both grown up on farms during the Great Depression, and were more interested in just keeping us all fed and clothed.
But now our house is full of wonderful, bright, original art! Auntie Bridgett being a member at SideStreet Arts helps, of course, because new paintings, prints and ceramics come through every month. But Ruth Inman, my friend from High School, has also been added to our collection.
We also just hung up a new Denise Krueger ceramic piece. It is three dimensional, one of her many sea creature-like sculptures that remind me of the tide pools in Monterey Bay. We hung it nice and high, above Sharon Jonquil’s encaustics, so we don’t hit it with a shoulder as we pass.
Our last new piece is a small acrylic painting Auntie Bridgett made for Grandpa Nelson’s birthday. It shows our lovely Laurelhurst Park with silhouettes of the three of us walking among the trees. It is hanging under Erin Hanson’s study of eucalyptus trees.
I love having art in the house. It gives me new perspective at times when I desperately need it. It shows me beauty and joy when I am burned down to my last neuron. And it reminds me that wonder can come from anyone, at any time.
Since I retired from teaching, my brain is like a kid in kindergarten, always finding something new. I opened a cupboard and found things to write about, so I wrote… for months and months.
Then I opened another cupboard and there was fabric, so I sewed.
And now I have found the paint cupboard. First gouache, then watercolors. And, like a kindergartener, I have friends with ideas that feed my ideas. “Come join my painting group,” said Ruthie. I did, and it has been wonderful. Art, silliness, and learning all come together in the magic proportions that teachers strive for.
I posted the islands I was painting and dear Elaine said, “I’ll bet you could put those islands on fabric, and maybe even quilt them.” Well, it turns out that you can paint on fabric with regular acrylic paints if you add a bit of “gac” paint medium. Auntie Bridgett had some, because of course she did.
I spent a day looking at maps of all the islands I love. The Big Island of Hawaii. Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland. Treasure Island from Robert Louis Stevenson. Tiny Gabriola Island in the Strait of Georgia. Neverland. Sketch, reconsider, sketch.
And finally I started painting my first fabric island. After smooth gouache and watercolors, the acrylic and muslin felt heavy and clumsy, but I kept at it.
I am still not totally happy with it, but I will get better if I just keep practicing. It seems a bit flat. Hmmmmm… Maybe I can add embroidery or even some beads. Maybe my friends will give me some good ideas.
Friday was a very warm day. Eighty-eight degrees, with a dry, bright sky. The heat of July has let us know it’s not done yet.
It was a good day, though. I got to practice with watercolors some more, painting a vase of flowers similar to my first one in gouache. Flower arrangements are good subjects. They remind me of my Momma, your great grandma Billie, so painting them is like having a long visit with her.
We met our new neighbors across the way. They are nice people, and the lady has a wonderful “Ramona the Pest” tattoo (from the original 1968 Louis Darling illustrations of that Beverly Cleary Classic) on her arm. I think we may be kindred spirits.
Ruth Inman, long-time friend and artist, had her first “Last Friday” Open House on-line, and we attended with cocktails in hand. It was great to see her studio and all her good work. She has such a whimsical touch and color sense. You can see her stuff at “ruthinmanart.com” .
We had dinner out at the newly re-opened for social distancing Suzette, our local Creperie. It was yummy and fun to see their bright new decor.
We watched the Giants beat the Texas Rangers at Oracle Park, in front of ‘cheering’ cut-outs of fans. A bit weird, (especially since the Giants usually don’t play the Rangers) but better than no baseball at all.
And for the finale of the evening, we watched a new documentary on The Go-Gos, a music group that Auntie Bridgett likes. I had barely even heard of them, so I learned a lot!
They started in 1979 as an all-girl punk rock band, and matured into fine musicians and the first all girl group that wrote and performed their own material to get a Number 1 debut album. They were incredibly successful in an industry that didn’t want them to be. It was very interesting, and I got to hear some fun new music.
And then, when it was cool enough for sleep, we all crashed and said good-bye to July. What will August bring? Hold on tight!
I am now spending a few hours everyday painting! It is giving the creative part of my brain a place to play while our days are just too hot to go outside. I started with flowers, but am branching out, so to speak.
Auntie Bridgett forwarded me a video from her friend Jennifer Coile, called “Sketchbook Islands”. Jennifer had found the video and thought we would enjoy it. And boy, was she right!
The video can be found on YouTube.com, or you can follow this link. It shows the work of Hitoshi Shigeta, who creates beautiful, mysterious maps of islands that don’t exist.
The technique looked so simple, I had to try. And then it was so fun, I kept at it. You start with watercolor paper and two or three colors of very wet watercolor paint. Drop a few fat drops of paint onto the paper, then quickly cover it with a piece of plastic wrap. Give it a soft rub to move the paint around, then peel off the plastic.
You will have an irregularly shaped blob with really interesting edges and shadings. This will dry quickly. When it does, repeat with a different color, extending your ‘island’ and partially overlapping your first layer.
Once I had it figured out, I began to experiment. I put down a quick wash of blue for the sea, then let it dry before creating my island. I played with bizarre colors and different materials. Flattening the paint with wrinkled tin foil gives a very different, ‘rockier’ island, and a combination of tin foil and plastic wrap is good, too. I tried ‘blobbing’ the wet paint on before flattening it, to give me more control and less splatter.
Once you are happy with how your island looks, you can make it more map-like by tracing the shoreline with a pen and putting in waves, sea monsters, and other details like mountains, buildings, or bridges.
This technique feels perfect for these difficult times. First, it is non-threatening and hard to mess up. Second, you are creating another world, and you get to name it. You can be as silly as you like. Silly is very good for mental health, I have found.
Finally, creating these islands lets your mind SEE these mysterious islands, and maybe, for a little while, BE there, far away from Corona virus and political turmoil. You can imagine standing on a mountain crag looking out at the sea, or walk across a grassy plain towards the beach. Feel the wind coming up the slope. Hear the gulls swooping over the waves.
The only weakness of this technique, for me, is the lettering. I do not have a good hand for such detail work, but I am working at it. Maybe I can use stamps or collage to overcome my shortcomings. Meanwhile, I get to visit these wonderful islands.
I am sorry if all my taking about painting is boring you, but I feel as though I have discovered a new super power, and I just love it!
Starting from single daisies to sunflowers and coneflowers, I have graduated to vases. Using a full, whole sheet of watercolor paper for the first time, I was nervous. I wanted to get it right. So I sketched, erased, and sketched some more.
Remembering my lessons from Ruth Inman and Auntie Bridgett Spicer, I started light so I could add darker colors later.
As I got more confident as to what the picture should look like, I put in more colors, the vase, and tabletop.
Once I had put in the shadows between the flowers, I let the paint dry before moving on to colored pencils.
This is the longest part of making the painting. There are hundreds of tiny lines and dots of a dozen different colors to put in, and you never know where until you stare at it a long time. Sometimes you need some grey to make a shadow deeper, sometimes a yellow to bring a flower forward.
And, of course, it was only then that I realized….. I had forgotten the background. Big, happy sigh. And back to work.