Remembering Islands

Dear Liza,

Well, I finally got the Big Island of Hawaii the way I liked it. Using paint, embroidery and quilting, I found the texture and shapes I wanted to remember.

The Big Island, as remembered

Yes, I know I didn’t give enough room to the emergent volcano in the south east corner, and little red sparkly beads, to denote flowing lava, have been suggested. But for now, I am happy with it.

And now my mind has wandered to another island. This one is located inside a certain theme park in Southern California, and is named after title character in Mark Twain’s most popular book.

Sketches for my next island

I started with sketches from my memory, then went on websites to see the lovely hand drawn maps from 1955. I realized the three-quarter view that showed the buildings skewed things a bit.

Photo credit, Disneyland and Walt Disney Corporation

So I cheated. I went to Google maps, found Anaheim, and zoomed in. The satellite setting shows right where everything is, and it isn’t as I remember it. The cove we crossed on the pontoon and suspension bridges are tiny compared to my memories.

Satellite view…

The “fort” that sold pickles from a barrel felt and as though it was at the end of the world, alas, was not. But my memories of joy and adventures are intact. The feeling of rocks under my sneakers and dust in my nose is there, waiting to be called up.

My version of this island will be a compromise between my childhood adventures and the actual place they happened, between the illusion and the reality. And that’s okay, too. Off to paint now!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Wordplay

Dear Liza,

Our family likes words. We make them up, rhyme them, put them in the ‘mouths’ of cats and hands, and play games with them. Scrabble, limericks and puns are sort of our family tradition.

The beginning….

Since the corona virus shutdown has been keeping us home more, we are finding new ways to play with words. Crosswords.

It started with the printed puzzles in the Willamette Weekly newspaper, but that’s only one puzzle a week! We needed more. Grandpa Nelson found online sites with daily puzzles, which grow in difficulty from Monday to Sunday. Monday’s can be done in under ten minutes., while Sunday’s can take more than an hour and require extra cups of coffee.

We also discovered that some puzzle creators are more fun than others. It’s not enough to ask for a river in Eastern Europe. We love puns. (Tiny sounds from the sheep pen? Bopeeps)

Merl Reagle, king of crosswords

Merl Reagle’s puzzles are our favorites. He was actually famous for his puzzles, which he created for The Washington Post, the New York Times, and other magazines and newspapers. He was even on an episode of The Simpson’s! Merl shared our silly love of words. He passed away in 2015, and I am grateful for the internet that we can still enjoy his good work.

I was enjoying the crosswords so much, I wanted to make my own. It’s harder than it looks! I found grids online, but couldn’t get the printer to enlarge them. So I drew one. Ten squares in each direction, each square being two centimeters, will just fit on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper.

Rough draft

Once I had the grid, I wanted some clever words to be “the long ones”, the theme of the puzzle. Given the era we are in, I chose “viral video” and “corona beer”, and started making the words to connect.

This is where it got challenging. Words that fit one direction resulted in unworkable combinations of letters in the other. I found myself googling weird collections of letters to make it work. AOLA? Association of the Locksmiths of America. Solved!

My first puzzle…

Since my puzzle was only ten by ten, I was able to get it done in just an hour or so. Auntie Bridgett did the tidy numbers in the corners. Creating the puzzles takes longer than solving them.

And the clues….

Now, I get to give it to Grandpa Nelson and see if he can solve it.

Then, I will make another one, just for fun.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Signs of the Times

Dear Liza,

There’s a lot to be stressed about…

Between the political unrest and the pandemic, people are feeling very stressed these days. The big signs of this are protests and violence, which can overwhelm the small goodnesses that are happening in corners of neighborhoods.

Lots of little signs of love and hope…

When I go out walking, I look for these small signs and take comfort in my fellow humans’ capacity for kindness, cleverness, and joy.

Sharing delicious apples….

And yet, amid the apples and sweetness, we need to remember that the fight for fairness isn’t over yet.

It’s not time to stop yet….

We need to keep those who have been killed and brutalized in our mind as we make decisions about who will run our cities and our country.

Take care, love people, and stay well.

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

On-line Happy Hour and the Go-Gos

Dear Liza,

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.

Newest bunch of flowers…

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.

From Ramona the Pest

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” .

Some of Ruth Inman’s beautiful work

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.

Suzette’s new interior

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.

Still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…

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!

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

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

Just Flowers

Dear Liza,

Sometimes, between the Covid-19 and the political situation, it’s nice to go out for a walk, and not think about anything. I mean, to just think about what is right in front of you.

Fortunately, in our neighborhood, there are lots of lovely flowers to look at. Sunnyside Elementary and Environmental School has delightful gardens, which are being tended by staff and families while the school is shut down.

Educated flowers…..

On a street down the hill a sunny patch is filled with Black-eyed Susans and zinnias.

Sunny flowers….

Our local community garden up by the Laurelhurst Care Center, sweet-peas and dahlias stand tall in the sun.

Tall flowers….

And between our house and Auntie Katie’s place in Ladd’s Addition, the four rose Gardens are home to hundreds of bushes, all tended by volunteers. This ‘Caroline Testout’ rose, a variety that was created in 1888, caught my eye on our last walk down that way.

And historic flowers!

Have a nice day, sweetie.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Buying Arty Stuff From Artists

Dear Liza,

One of the nicest things about having artists in my life, besides knowing the lovely artists themselves, is getting pretty stuff!

My friend Ruth Inman is an artist who lives in Illinois. She does delightful, pretty, quirky art, with lots of purples, golds, dragonflies, and doodles.

Me and my nifty new scarf

She has gone into business with a company called Redbubble that puts her art onto scarves, purses, face masks, and even shower curtains. You can order these online, which is very nice for these days of not-going-out.

The scarf itself

I have been having art classes with Ruth online, and in one of these classes, she made a beautiful piece of art. I liked it so much, I bought it on a scarf from Redbubble. And yesterday, it arrived!

She can be found at Ruth Inman.redbubble.com

Care directions: Do not eat hats!

It is so soft and pretty, and huge. The colors are blue and a golden brown, which will make it useful for summer and fall, and it feels like a cloud. I am so pleased!

Even a nifty zip-seal bag

If you have arty stuff needs go visit Redbubble, just for fun.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Unfocused Rage, Intentional Joy

Dear Liza,

Our country is a very nervous place these days. People are worried about the Corona Virus, people being out of work, and political upheaval in our cities. I have been upset, too, and am doing what I can to cope.

I have donated supplies to the braver souls in downtown Portland who are standing up to (President) Trump’s Federal goons. I have written my Senators and Representatives to encourage them to use the power of Congress to censure these illegal and unwanted actions.

But other people have other, less positive coping mechanisms. One unhappy soul has been wandering around our dear Lone Fir Cemetery, kicking over beautiful, historic headstones.

Yes, I am angry and wish he (Folks have see him and say it’s a man) hadn’t done it, but mostly I am sad for him. I mean, how bad does your life have to be that you take it out on the dead?

Is this who we are becoming?

But then I see acts of love, large and small, in evidence all over the neighborhood, and I find my faith in my species returning.

People are working in their gardens, writing encouraging words on sidewalks, making beautiful, positive murals, and donating time and money to good causes. People are learning to smile with their eyes over the masks to show folks they are loved and appreciated.

Life is good, it really is. Not always easy, but good.

Love,

Grandma Judy