Advent means when something important finally arrives, and Christmas Advent is the expectant time before Christmas. It is usually celebrated from the first of December to Christmas Day.
We start doing Christmas-y things like baking and holiday movies on December First, but our Advent Calendar only has 20 days ( it’s a long story) and it runs until Christmas Eve, so we start on the fourth. That’s today!
Auntie Bridgett made this pretty Advent Calendar a few years ago, from brown sacks and wonderful vintage Parisian Christmas pictures. In Salinas, it was suspended on a string by the fireplace. Here in Portland, it has found a home in a basket by the tree.
Inside each bag in a bit of fun Christmas trivia, a game to play, or a puzzle. There is also a candy treat and maybe a small gift. Each is held shut by a clothes pin with a curly number to keep things in order.
And since today is December 5th, we will open the first bag this evening! Hooray for Christmas!
Your Auntie Bridgett Spicer has her show at Sidestreet Art Gallery this month. It is a very big deal, taking months of work to prepare. I think it is wonderful.
The show is called “A Sketchbook(Ed) Life” and includes her sketchbooks and art created from them. Since she is on her 155th sketchbook, she has a lot to ‘draw’ from!
I love watching Bridgett draw. She has so much skill and so many funny ideas that cartoons just jump out of her pencil. Her sketchbooks have told the story of quiet times at home, history and language lessons, and all our travels together.
The main themes in her sketchbooks are coffee and the people who drink it, cats, and ghosts and monsters. The art for the show reflects this. But there are also sketches and art from her comic strip “Squid Row” and from her zines.
To see her show online, you can go to SideStreetArts.com. The information for her First Friday ZOOM and her Sunday Art Talk will also be there. Come and join the fun!
All our birthdays this year have been affected by the corona virus shutdown. But Auntie Bridgett’s had the added Barbecue flavor of the horrendous fires that are raging in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Because of the smoke, Portland is experiencing Hazardous air. Yep. Lately, it hasn’t been safe to go into a restaurant, or store, without a mask. Now, it’s not safe to go out, period. Our regular masks won’t help.
So Auntie Bridgett’s birthday was a stay-inside affair. Presents were opened, including a giant book of everything from the Picasso museum in Paris, a fabulous bag, and a new doo-hickey to help her film her how-to videos.
French Cooking radio played as we had a two woman painting party, inspired by “Ball Players on the Beach” by Picasso. We have such different styles, but we sure had fun!
A quiet afternoon gave way to dinner plans. Since Paris was on our minds, we put it on the menu by ordering delivery from La Moule, a French place down on Clinton. A giant bowl of mussels in white wine, crusty baguettes, pate, and a nice red wine made for a filling, French-feeling meal.
A game of Scrabble, a Giants loss, and a Baking show, and it was time to say goodnight to this weirdest (so far) birthday.
On Thursday we got a chance to do good work for Portland. Grandpa Nelson got us signed up with a group called SolveOregon, who use volunteers to cleanup and repair around the state.
We got up early and drove downtown to help with litter clean up. Except in the area just around the Federal Building, (where the protests and conflicts with police have been happening every night for three months), most of the storefronts are fine and businesses are open.
Our check-in location was at the Mark Spencer Hotel, where ninety masked but friendly people waited in line to get directions and equipment. We collected our long handled grabbers, gloves, and plastic bags, and headed off.
It was slow going, because most of the litter we were picking up were small, like bottle caps or cigarette butts. It took us a while to get the hang of handling the grabbers. We walked along, heads down, focusing on the sidewalk. About every fifteen minutes we would look up and check in with each other and figure out where we were.
I am sorry for the lack of photos to tell this story, but it was difficult to use my phone while wearing gloves, a mask, and carrying a bag and grabbers. I made a choice to do the work well instead of photo-documenting.
As we walked along, we were pleasantly surprised by folks’s reactions. People would roll down the window of their cars and holler “Thank you!!”. A postal worker stopped us and told us how much he appreciated our help to make the city better. Auntie Bridgett made sure he knew that we appreciated his work, too.
After two hours, we had a satisfying amount of garbage in our bags, and were pretty much done in, and turned in our grabbers. We chatted with Sarah, our group leader, who let us know we could help in other ways, and directed us to the website to check it out.
We had a wonderful, filling lunch at the Zeus Cafe, a McMeniman’s restaurant just a block from where we were working. I hadn’t realized how hungry or tired I was! By the time we got home, I could hardly walk up the stairs.
I am happy that we spent a few hours doing something to help our city. We have had recent problems, caused by the pandemic and social unrest, but we are also just a big city with millions of people smoking, doing business, and eating. It takes maintenance to keep it up.
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.
I have been telling you about painting with watercolors for a few months now. I have been using this little MALA set we found in one of the teeny tiny libraries years ago, and enjoying it very much.
And, as it so often turns out lately, I was wrong…. just a little bit. Since I don’t know much about how watercolors acts or looks, I assumed that the matte finish and slightly chalky feel of my finished pictures was ‘just how watercolors work’ and my slightly muted colors were because I wasn’t applying them properly.
I have been using gouache! Gouache (you say it ‘go-wash’) is a watercolor that has ground up chalk in it, so of course it feels a little chalky and looks more matte, and less transparent, than regular watercolor.
This realization came about when I re-worked of one of my fantasy islands from this…
“You shouldn’t have been able to cover that blue with the brown,” Auntie Bridgett said. “Watercolors are too translucent.” Her eyes lit up. “This is gouache!”
And suddenly, the chalky texture and soft colors of my flower vase made sense. My frustration with my non-shimmery dragonfly wings was explained. I was never going to get the transparency of watercolor using gouache.
I felt better, knowing it wasn’t ‘just me’ and that there were benefits of using gouache, not the least of which was, ‘Hey, it was free.’ But artist Auntie Bridgett, who has been very supportive of my painting, realized that she has a very nice watercolor set, and let me use it.
This set has tubes, instead of cakes, of paint. The texture of the diluted paint is smoother and silkier. I really notice the transparency, even getting frustrated because I have gotten so used to the gouache! And it still has the “Hey, it was free” feature.
So now I am on a new learning curve and having fun with it. And while parts of me are in lockdown and stuck inside, other parts are just a happy seven year old with a new toy.
Many years ago, I did some writing and research for The First Mayor’s House in Salinas. I wrote, and Auntie Bridgett Spicer illustrated, a little book called “Miss Harvey Remembers … Getting to Salinas”.
It was fun to learn about Isaac J. Harvey and his family, who moved to Salinas before it was even a city. They built a house, a store, and became part of the group that incorporated and laid out the city, way back in 1868. Isaac’s oldest daughter, Saphronia, left town so she could go to college and get her teaching license, just to open up the first school in this new town.
Over the years, I worked with David Baker, Mary Randall, and MaryJane Choate to create lessons and tours for local school kids so they could understand their town’s history. It was so much fun!
When we moved to Portland, I thought I was all done with that. But, like so many times before, I was wrong.
With all the schools going on-line because of Covid-19, The First Mayor’s House is making virtual tours and on-line lessons to take the place of actual walk-throughs of the House. It makes me sad that kids won’t get to pump the water and use the scrub board, roll a hoop or touch and feel the plants.
But, it turns out, I get to play! When MaryJane asked if I could read the story on camera, for kids to watch in their on-line classes. it seemed easy. Reading stories out loud was my favorite part of my thirty years of teaching. Piece of cake.
Wrong again. I had to find the story, which has been tucked away for years. In re-reading it, I discovered a factual error and had to figure out how to correct it. I had to find a ‘set’ (a bookcase in my bedroom) and a ‘camera crew’ (Auntie Bridgett) to make it look good.
And I had to use my teacher voice, which I have been running from for two years now. It was all harder than I thought.
But eventually we got a rough draft video done. I am still figuring out how to send to Salinas so they can include it in their collection. Or maybe, the internet being what it is, I don’t even send it, but just post it. Who knows? We are learning as we go along.
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.
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.
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.
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.