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

Brain Work

Dear Liza,

I have known for months that the art I have been doing during the lockdown is making me happier. I have a fun project to do everyday, connect with friends and family over ZOOM, and I get to learn new things.

Now, it turns out it maybe making me healthier and smarter, too. One of the challenges last week had us drawing something with our non-dominant hand. For me, that’s my left, which is usually pretty useless. It was hard!

First non-dominant hand drawing

Just figuring out how to hold the pencil, how much pressure to apply, then making the lines go where I wanted…. it wasn’t pretty, I tell you. Because my notebook has a large spiral binding, I needed to turn the whole thing upside down so it didn’t get in the way of my left hand.

Second….

But I kept at it and finished a drawing of our French press coffee maker that was not terrible. I did some reading about this sort of exercise. “Using your opposite hand will strengthen neural connections in your brain, and even grow new ones”, says Jeff Rose, who began using his left hand because of an injury. “It’s similar to how physical exercise improves your body’s functioning and grows muscles.”

Third….

Well, I thought, I could use some of that! Maybe in addition to my daily routine of doing a French lesson, eating lots of veggies and getting some exercise, I should draw with my left hand, like a set of Frontal Cortex crunches.

So I did. The drawings got better, and I got braver. I did some left-handed watercolors with the drawing, which made them prettier, if not actually better. Because my view is limited, I started copying photos of our cat and of poppies in our old back yard.

Fourth.

And last night, when you and I were drawing together on ZOOM, I realized that by using my left hand everyday, my right hand has gotten smarter! I was able to draw my stuffed dog Sammy much better than I could before. Maybe the fault isn’t in our hands, but in our brains. Maybe I have been forming new pathways in my old brain!

So, go do some non-dominant hand drawing. You will feel clumsy for a while, but it will pay off.

Love,

Grandma Judy

This Week’s Media Mix-up

Dear Liza,

My friend Ruth Inman gave us an odd list of things for our mixed media challenge this week. Threads pulled from fabric. Large envelopes. And a ‘page extender’, a flap or a fold-out section to make the page bigger.

As usual, I read the list before bed, so my brain could be working on it while I was asleep. I have a very self-motivated. brain, I guess, because when I woke up I knew just what to do.

Since I have been obsessed with trees lately, that’s where I headed. I drew a hillside with watercolor pencils and pulled some threads from some grey and brown fabric and slowly built a winter tree trunk and bare branches. This was tricky, because after a while the thread wanted to stick to my glue-y fingers instead of the paper, but I slowed down and got it all where I wanted it. I love how it looks and feels. Very nubbly and bark-Ish.

Wintry tree with Fall flap just showing

Next, I taped down a flap that would be the Fall part of the tree, and started putting on the orange and brown leaves. I used crumpled pages from magazines and an old Manila envelope.

Wintry tree with Fall flap

I realized that my tree was going to be pretty stumpy on top, so I taped yet another flap on and kept adding leaves until I was happy with the height. I needed to leave a slight gap so the page could fold.

Fall tree gets an extension

Of course, a taller tree needed taller branches, so more threads got added to the Wintry tree. This sort of unexpected drift of a project can be frustrating, but is also exciting and fun, adjusting to what is needed.

This project ended up taking longer than I thought, because I had to wait for layers of glue and paint to dry, and having two flaps instead of one! Here is a picture to show how it is put together.

This website won’t post videos, but I have put one on my Judy Drueding Facebook page to show how the flaps open up. Go take a look! And if you don’t do Facebook, write me a comment and I’ll send it to you.

Have fun making art!

Love,

Grandma Judy

More Mixing of Media

Dear Liza,

Learning and doing new things is a wonderful way to stay young. Doing the Art Journal challenge with Ruth Inman every week is making me be a better artist, too.

This week I decided to use the mixed media items (address labels, box tops, and can labels) to make a picture that wasn’t about the collage. Let me explain.

I have usually made collages where the paper itself is the feature. The Tootsie Roll wrappers in my bouquet, though bright and fun, never looked like anything other than what they were.

My new challenge was to make a real picture using collage bits. Since I am getting better at faces (by practicing a lot), I decided to draw a face with watercolor pencils, then build the environment with collage.

Naked face and some tentative background…

Once I got the basic proportions in, I built my cityscape background from junk mail. I made them very vertical so they looked like tall buildings. Auntie Bridgett showed me how to make the perspective.

Then came the hard part, making the face. Auntie Bridgett suggested making my character monochromatic, or all one color. I chose blue.

The more I drew, the more I liked it. Shading cheekbones and eye sockets is something that definitely takes practice! Putting in sky and what I thought was a street made it more ‘real’.

He needed a face, so I made eyes out of box tops and junk mail, with eyebrows from address labels, and lips, mustache and goatee from security envelopes.

His hair is made from address labels, with a little black acrylic sponged on to make it more uniform in color. I kept liking it, so I put some details in the background with an Elegant Writer and a few clouds to give perspective.

Looking again, I realized the ‘street’ really looked like an overcoat, so I put in some lapels. And voila! I call him Georges, because he looks French, stylish, and a bit paranoid. I hope when you see this, you will try making a collage picture, too!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Celebratory Walk and Some Art

Dear Liza,

While we were reading the news and doing Duolingo this past Saturday morning, we heard a “Whoop!”from outside, a random celebratory yell.. We opened the window. More whoops, some car horn honks….

“Turn on the news!!” And there it was, CNN calling Pennsylvania’s ballot count for Joe Biden, putting him over the top and making him the President Elect of the United States.

Mouse was fascinated by the news!

We danced, we sang, we got dressed, we needed to get out and walk. Grandpa Nelson woke up and decided he needed to go with us. We waved to folks who smiled and waved back, sang, danced, and honked their horns. People in the park were happily walking dogs. The whole city was celebrating!

Happy trees in the Park

We stopped by Oblique Coffee for two pounds of their fine dark roasted beans, and the folks there were happy, too. We all felt as though we have been holding our breath and clinching our teeth for four years.

Between happy thoughts of new beginnings for our country (after the remaining 72 days of Mr. Trump’s term are over) and the lovely chilly morning, bright with leaves, we had quite a nice morning.

Weird Masonic symbol with Googly eye

Back home, I felt that I wanted to make some happy art. My first thought was “Making a New World”. I pulled some papers out of my collection, and laid them out very slowly, not thinking much, just eyeballing the colors.

The beginning of my celebratory collage

I cut a circle out of scrap paper and glued the collage papers onto it, overlapping and just playing. Once it dried, I cut out the circle out and put it on a page in my journal, then added some words. A little shading, and I think it’s done.

Sing “Thanks” Everyone!

We ordered pizza for dinner and watched our Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and President-Elect Joe Biden make their first official speeches to a socially distanced crowd in Delaware. They spoke of healing, caring, and uniting our bruised country, of fighting the corona virus and not each other. I was happy all over again at hopeful new beginnings.

Looking forward!

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Literal Walk in The Park

Dear Liza,

After an awful, nervous night and long cranky morning worrying about election returns, Grandpa Nelson took me out for a nice walk around Laurelhurst Park.

Morrison Street has turned into a colorful tunnel

Nothing soothes rattled nerves like walking around and noticing the colors of leaves, happy dogs chasing frisbees, and little kids on teeny tiny bikes.

Duckweed through aspens

The duckweed was still giving Firwood Lake that odd soccer-pitch color, and it looked weirdly beautiful through the yellow leaves.

Light filled tunnel across the park

There weren’t many people in the park, but those there were were all dressed for the chilly weather and making the park even more picturesque.

We just did a slow lap, then back home. I started working on a new face, which I sketched while looking at a picture of you! If it turns out okay, I will show it to you soon.

As the day goes on and more election returns trickle in, I am feeling better about the future of our country. Fingers crossed!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Art In the Darkness

Dear Liza,

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.

The gloom is almost too much….

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Painting Islands…. On Fabric?

Dear Liza,

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.

Writing and writing..

Then I opened another cupboard and there was fabric, so I sewed.

Sewing and sewing…..

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.

Painting little crabby friends….

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.

Pencils first….

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.

The Big Island of Hawaii, as I have it so far…

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

More Sketchbook Islands

Dear Liza,

Besides being shutdown because of the Corona Virus, Portland is now dealing with Federal troops in our downtown streets every evening. It is also about 100 degrees by noon these hot July days. So I am staying inside.

My first, ‘accidental‘ map

I have taken Hitoshi Shigeta’s sketchbook islands, sent to us by Jennifer Coile, and run with it! I made a few islands in the original drip-and-spread method, but wanted the features to stand out more. I gave the accidentally created features more contrast with my paintbrush.

As I worked, I began to see where the snow would accumulate, how the melt would flow, and what the topography of the island would be. It became a very real, very happy place for me. I named it Welcome Home.

Making it real….

I realized that my calligraphy skills were not up to labeling the features on my map, so Auntie Bridgett suggested using cut-out letters and words in a sort of collage technique, and I am really enjoying it. Years of Portland Monthly, Better Homes and Gardens, and Sunset Magazines, and all our old maps are getting harvested.

Having gotten my island to this point, I am not sure what to do with it next. But my Dad always said that if you can’t decide what to do, maybe it isn’t time to make that decision yet. So I will put my maps in a safe place and figure it out later.

And what will I do next? Who knows?

Love,

Grandma Judy