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

Watercolor vs Gouache

Dear Liza,

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.

My freebie paint set!

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.

Pretty, but not what I was expecting…

Nope.

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…

To 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.

Starting to use actual watercolors!

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.

First real watercolor trial…

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Miss Harvey Returns!

Dear Liza,

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.

The First Mayor’s House

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!

Learning to play 1868 games

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.

Maria and the aloe…

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.

Using my teacher voice…

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.

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

Sketchbook Islands

Dear Liza,

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.

Perfectly Imperfect

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.

https://youtu.be/v-AL7EqAkoghttps://youtu.be/v-AL7EqAkog.

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.

Add some details…

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.

Odd colors, tin foil, then plastic!

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.

My getaway of the day

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.

A creation for a pessimistic friend

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.

Love,

Grandma Judy

…And more Flowers!

Dear Liza,

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.

Getting coneflowers, lupines and daisies in their places

Remembering my lessons from Ruth Inman and Auntie Bridgett Spicer, I started light so I could add darker colors later.

It’s like a ghost, beginning to materialize….

As I got more confident as to what the picture should look like, I put in more colors, the vase, and tabletop.

Almost there….

Once I had put in the shadows between the flowers, I let the paint dry before moving on to colored pencils.

Ready for 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.

Well, that’s better!

And, of course, it was only then that I realized….. I had forgotten the background. Big, happy sigh. And back to work.

Background!

Then, more pencils…

And … done!

And now I’m on to the next one! Wheeee!

Love,

Grandma Judy

National Teddy Bear Picnic Day

Dear Liza,

During the shutdown, we are having to find new ways to keep busy and make the days fun. We are reading, painting, and learning. And sometimes, we go on a picnic!

Auntie Bridgett, setting up the picnic

Friday was National Teddy Bear Picnic Day, believe it or not. It was also the first really warm day here in Portland. So we celebrated.

Two silly bear lovers!

Auntie Bridgett and I packed up easy picnic food like hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and celery, goat cheese and blueberries, and a few cookies. We also packed blankets and my guitar, and tiny dishes. And of course, the bears. Not ALL the bears, for sure, but four wonderful friends.

Pops, Patches, Esther Bear, and Bridgett Bear

We carried our provisions and our friends up to Laurelhurst Park. We have seen the park be very busy, and we wanted a quiet spot where we could be distanced. We found a high bank above the main walkway, where we could see but not be too close to anyone. We set up a big blanket and real food for us, and a tiny blanket and pretend food (well, mostly drink) for the bears.

Our supper

As we enjoyed our shady supper, a few folks came by and took notice. It was fun to make people smile at our silliness.

Bears getting tipsy just by sitting near the bottles!

When we had eaten, Auntie Bridgett and I tried singing The Teddy Bears Picnic song, written in 1907 by Irish Songwriter Jimmy Flannigan. It was the first time we’ve played and sung together in over a year, and we were rusty. But the bears didn’t complain and we got better before we quit, so that’s something.

Teddy Bear Music

“If you go down in the woods today,

You’re sure of a big surprise,

If you go down in the woods today,

You’d better go in disguise…”

We even had a bee visiter who enjoyed the clovers right by our feet!

Bees and Converse

It was actually starting to get a little cool by then, and the sun was thinking about going down, so we packed up and headed home.

Happy Teddy Bear Picnic Day!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Mixing It Up a Little

Dear Liza,

Human beings are creatures of habit, they say, but I have always disagreed. I like to go on adventures…walking eight miles to Sellwood, bussing across town for a hike, taking the train to Vancouver and biking around the city. But as we go along in the quarantine, I realize how much I am leaning on my habits. Especially in uncertain times, we feel the need to do normal things in the normal way.

Starting simple

Here, that means morning coffee with news on the sofa, writing blogs, then crossword puzzles, then French practice on Duolingo.

The recent addition of online watercolor classes with Ruth Inman in Illinois has helped fill Tuesday and Thursday mornings with art and conversation. It has also given me courage to make more art.

Little flowers are less daunting

The other day I painted my first sunflower. I had been doing little daisies and simple roses, which feel less daunting. Sunflowers are imposing. They are flower royalty that literally looks down on everyone. They have gravitas.

Floral royalty

And when I got it done, I felt pretty good about it. I asked Auntie Bridgett. “It’s not bad,” she said kindly. “But you could use some colored pencils to bring it out more, to make it pop.”

My first thought was, “What if I screw it up?” But I slapped that thought down, stepped over it, and moved on. We walked to Collage down on Division Street and bought me some Vera Thin pencils along with more watercolor paper.

Painted, penciled, and almost done

I started playing. Painting like before, but with the knowledge that some parts would be enhanced or shaded with pencils. I learned about complementary colors and how to use them for emphasis, that shadows are never black, and that short lines can make lovely curves. It is another tiny step outside my comfort zone.

Back to daisies, but with more oomph

This using of paints and pencils, or pastels and collage, or crayons and paint, is called mixed media. You mix bits that you already know, some you don’t, and come up with something new. This is an interior adventuring, and one I am enjoying very much.

Maybe it will keep my adventurous muscles strong for when I can go adventuring outside again.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Me and Harry

Dear Liza,

Harry Potter and his author, J.K. Rowling, have been famous for a long time now. The first book about Harry and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1998 and has been both loved and hated all over the world ever since.

Wonderful display at McMenamin’s Kennedy School

I was first introduced to Harry through your Auntie Katie, who was in high school and working at a bookshop in Monterey at the time. Part of her job was to dress up in her black, star-printed cape and read the first chapter of each newly released book at the Midnight Release Party. She loved the books, so I gave them a try. I loved them, too.

Our wands, from Auntie Christy

Their magical world is complex and well described, and the story of a boy and his friends trying to conquer puberty, final exams, and world-dominating evil all at once is emotional, funny, and compelling. The story they tell of the importance of love and friendship makes us understand our humanity better.

Auntie Bridgett as a studious young wizard

We have gone a little nuts with the Harry goodies, I admit. We have all the books in English, and most of them in French, too. We also have background books like ““Quidditch Through the Ages” and “Harry Potter’s Bookshelf”. Auntie Christy even made us magic wands in her wood shop, and Cousin Kyle got us figurines, scarves and tee shirts! Yes, we like us some Harry.

Meeting a fellow Hufflepuff at Laurelhurst!

We have also enjoyed events in town that are all about Harry and our love of his wizarding world. We dressed up to attend trivia night at the Nerd Out and Harry’s birthday celebration at the Kennedy School, joining with lots of other Harry fans to eat, drink, play games, and have a good time in an imaginary world where we are all wizards.

Grandpa Nelson as a young Dumbledore

I am currently re-reading The Goblet of Fire in French, enjoying the story and understanding more as I go along. Last week, when I read about Neville making a mistake in Transformation class and accidentally attaching his own ears to a cactus, I laughed out loud! At French! Hooray!

Hanging out with Aragog at OMSI

Love,

Grandma Judy

Re-Opening SideStreet Arts

Dear Liza,

Since mid-March, the corona virus shut down has had all the non-essential stores closed. We could buy food, gas, and medicine, and even some take out food. But art galleries and shops have had to go on- line for business.

Auntie Bridgett, making it all pretty

And, for many, it has worked out well. Even with the doors closed, Auntie Bridgett’s gallery, SideStreet Arts, has had sales almost equal to last year’s. The members have kept their art on display through Instagram, Facebook, and an on-line newsletter. Last month’s ZOOM First Friday was well attended and had lots of sales. First Fridays will continue to be ZOOM for a while, as we get used to a “new normal”.

Last month’s ZOOM fIrst Friday

Governor Brown has announced it is time to (carefully) open Portland for business. The city is considering closing some streets to traffic so restaurants and bars can spread out, allowing more space between customers. And SideStreet Arts is getting ready, too. June 4th will be their first day open, from Noon until 5 PM! Woo-hoo!!!

Moving things around

Auntie Bridgett and the other artists have been cleaning, re-painting, and rearranging all the art. They are putting some health procedures into place, like bottles of hand sanitizer in every part of the gallery and a plexiglass shield at the register. They have moved pedestals around to allow more space between shoppers and will be allowing people to use their own bags. They have changed their small kitchen to a hand-washing station.

And they will be offering masks to customers who want to come in and browse but didn’t bring one. That’s where I come in.

Masks for shoppers

I am making a bunch more masks, single-layer for comfortable shopping, which the customers can keep and even wash and re-use, if they like.

Many businesses are working out these same snags. The point is to limit the spread of germs while being as comfortable as possible. It is a narrow line to walk and not everyone agrees on everything. But if we understand that everyone is doing their best and, when in doubt, smile and say “Thank you”, I think we will be fine in the end.


Love,

Grandma Judy