Playing with Corks

Dear Liza,

We go through a few wine corks here, and it has always been a bit of an issue for me. I hate throwing things out, but aside from Auntie Bridgett making some really cool miniature tikis a few years back, we haven’t made use of them.

This problem found (one) solution the other day, as I was flipping through the Garden Journal I made for the second half of the summer. Auntie Bridgett looked over my shoulder and said, “You need to put some bees into all those hexagons!” I knew I could draw bees, or paint them. But wouldn’t it be cooler….

So I grabbed some of the corks and the Exacto-o blade and had at it. I started with a few bees (only one turned out) and played with them on the hexagon page. I learned a few things right away. First, ink is better than acrylics (which I should have known), and second, the ink I have isn’t totally waterproof. Also, a tiny bit of yellow paint really makes a difference.

So I kept playing, creating a love note to our favorite pollinators.

Then I cut two more stamps, a rectangle and a “O”, and played with them. For a moment, I forgot I was in my garden journal, and had to do some quick finagling to make the stamps “garden-Ish”.

Then I trimmed up the rectangle so it was thinner and pointy, and I liked it better. I had another page that needed a picture on it, layered some acrylics and then used the stamps to make a flower from the shapes.

I still have no idea where this is all going, but just being on the road is pretty neat!

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Harvest

Dear Liza,

I stopped by the garden plot yesterday, to pull tiny weeds and remove the camellia blossoms. I noticed that some of the radishes were looking weird… the soil around the leaves was lumpy and tilted.

Harvest!!

And then I saw why!! Some of them have actual radishes below the leaves. Taking a clue from my friend Shawn Quione in Salinas, I chose the biggest ones to thin out, so the others would have more room. Each one was about the size of the end of my thumb.

Once I got them home, I washed them gently and put them away like fine jewelry, to have with supper. And while I was waiting for Auntie Bridgett to get home, I celebrated with a portrait of the harvest. It is my favorite page in my garden journal so far.

The latest page in my garden journal

I know it is only May, and summer goes until September, but I don’t know if I will be as excited about anything I pull from my dirt as I am about these four radishes. The newness of this sort of creation is just wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

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

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

Progress in The Garden Journal

Dear Liza,

I haven’t done much work in the garden, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it! My garden journal gives me a place to put my dreams and imaginings down in a art-y, fun, not-having-to-think-too-much-about- it sort of way.

So when the rain comes down and the garden plot is all mud, I dream and draw, get out the collage glue and the watercolors, and have fun making up what I WANT to be doing.

Hopefully, by the time I run out of ideas to paint, spring will have sprung enough to where I can put seeds in the ground.

I am anxious for spring to come and to be able to watch my seeds grow.

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

What’s in My Name?

Dear Liza,

My Art Journal assignment for Monday was to make a picture of the origin or meaning of my name. This became a bigger project of memory, photo hunting, and watercolor. Yehudit is the Hebrew origin of my name, Judy. It means both “praised” and simply “ a woman from Judea.” But Julia Harris, the woman I am named after, had more American beginnings. Born in about 1915, the youngest daughter of an Arkansas pig farmer, she was given the elegant name “Julia” in hopes she would be pretty and marry well.

But once Julia grew up, she had no interest in marrying. She took advantage of World War II to move far from Arkansas, change her name to Judy (Julia was just too fancy) and work for McDonnell-Douglas aeronautics in California as a riveter. 

The long journey of my name….

My Momma was working there, too, and they became great friends. Both being from large farm families, both out on their own for the first time, they would go bowling together when their shifts ended. Then Momma met Dad and got married, and quit work to stay home and make babies.


Fast forward a year or so. Momma, now home with my big brother Tim and pregnant with Jim, listened to my dad tell about the new ‘girl’ at work. He described her so clearly that Momma recognized her friend Judy. Judy had left work at the plant shortly before Mom and Dad got married, returning to Arkansas.

When she returned, she told of how she had married a boy back home and that he had been killed in the war. She had come back to work in California with her old friend Ruth, and they took an apartment together. Ruth was a real estate agent (a rarity for women until the war took all the men away) and Judy kept up her engineering training at McDonnell-Douglas.

Judy and Ruth remained close to my parents for the next eight years, and when my Mom finally had her girl (me) she named me Judy after her dear friend.
I must have met Judy when I was a baby, but I don’t remember it. She and Ruth moved to Lancaster, California, and then Sedona, Arizona, and we just never got to visit. She and Momma wrote regularly, and I heard about her my whole life.

Fast forward to 1998. After my Dad died, I asked Momma where she would like to go, who she would like to visit. First, we spent some time with family in Oklahoma.

Judy Harris and Momma, 1989

Then we went to Sedona. Judy had lost Ruth just the year before. They had been together since 1946. Their double wide mobile home was decorated in the height of style from the 1960s, with rattan furniture and ceramics with an Asian theme. Judy, at the age of 86, led us on hikes, visits to the Church of the Rock, and a full day of pancakes and antiquing in Sedona. When we were too tired to walk anymore, we talked ourselves blue in the face.

I liked this woman I was named after. She was direct, strong, positive, and funny. She had made her way in life with a partner, not a husband, and she had lived a good life.

Then Momma and I went back to California. Judy and I wrote back and forth, and called each other on holidays. A few years later we got word that Judy had passed away at the age of 97. She had a good, long life. Momma passed a few years later.

This is the best photo I have of Judy and Momma, taken that spring in Sedona. But the most important things about both of them didn’t show on the outside, anyway. Momma’s kindness and loving heart, and Judy’s strength, friendship, and willingness to live a good life in her own way, don’t show up in pictures. But they make fine people.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Going in Circles

Dear Liza,

I have told you about the art journal I have been working in.

In October, Ruth Inman urged us to make pictures following prompts like “haunted house” or “sea life”.

Sea Life

In November we were given loose lists of supplies like “junk mail” or “cranberry can label”.

Junk Mail Art

One of my favorite pictures was one made with a printed photo of Cousin Kestrel, a fruit bag, and bits of magazines. It shows her as a flower fairy, which is just about right.

Cousin Kestrel as a nature fairy

On my own, I’ve been working in the Journal. As a matter of fact, I am on my last page! For my last piece in the book, I have returned to a favorite shape. Yesterday, I borrowed Auntie Bridgett’s ek 1 1/4 inch hole cutter and started chopping circles out of papers in my recycling box.

ek cutter and its bounty

But, art being art, when I laid down the background with acrylics and various textures, it looked like outer space! I would need other colors.

Layers of color and pattern for background

I found an old Sunset magazine and looked for cool toned colors and patterns. After lots of playing, I figured where I wanted to put the ‘planets’, and Mod Podged them into place. A few more white flicks from an old toothbrush, and I was done.

My “Winter Universe”


I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing art everyday. With fewer outside adventures to keep me busy, being creative and having fun have allowed me to be active and learn something new every day.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Halloween

Dear Liza,

Saturday was Halloween! It was a clear, stunningly bright day, and just a tiny bit chilly. After breakfast and crosswords, Auntie Bridgett and I had some things to do.

First, we drove over to St. Stephen’s Church on SE 41st Street for their Harvest Parade and Food Drive. Grandpa Nelson and I had seen the signs about it the day before on our way to Zach’s Shack, and I really wanted to see kids in costumes.

We chatted with the teachers in charge as a few families began to assemble, gave them our donation for the local food bank, and walked down the block. This time of year makes Portland so pretty! The trees changing, the flowers giving their last blast of color…. it takes my breath away.

As we wandered, a very friendly black cat hopped her fence to come say hello. She rubbed and purred with us until another person came down the sidewalk. “Gotta go, bye!” She seemed to say, and headed off for more pets.

The parade was very low-key, with kids and families organized by grade levels. They had a scavenger hunt of things to look for: black cat (check!) spider webs, pumpkins, and such. Everyone was in costume, but we seemed to be the only non-school people watching. We sat on the corner across from them and waved and clapped, telling everyone how great they looked. Some even waved back!

When I had seen enough happy kids to hold me for a while, we headed to the grocery store. With Election Day coming and Portland tending to over-react to politics, we thought it wise to stock up. We didn’t want to be running out of cream if protesters are out.

The Art Journaling Secrets Unleashed challenge was Orange. I didn’t feel very inspired, to be honest. As much as I have come to appreciate orange this Fall, the color reminds me too much of Mr. Trump’s fake tan. I thought of trying a portrait of him (it would certainly be orange) but I didn’t like the idea of spending all day with someone so unpleasant. So I decided on a collage page, with his silly pumpkin head having a tiny role to play.

We listened to Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and had a quiet afternoon. Dinner was tamales from Safeway, which were tasty, though we still haven’t found reliable, Salinas-quality Mexican food here in Portland.

We played Presidential Trivia and watched Steven Colbert, then Neil Simon’s mystery spoof, “Murder by Death”, and it was time for bed. It was certainly the quietest Halloween I have ever spent, but it was Covid-appropriate.

I hope you had a wonderful, fun, sweet Halloween.

Love,

Grandma Judy