Reading Matters

Dear Liza,

I have more time on my hands not that I am retired, and sometimes I wonder what to do with it.

I have always loved reading, and never had enough time for it. Not just ’get the news’ reading or history books, but a solid commitment to major chunks of literature. I have time for that now, and have been diving in.

My first book in this campaign was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Written in England in 1868, it was considered revolutionary because of its portrayal of the personal and moral growth of a lower-class woman. Though full of injustices, the story has a positive-tending heroine and I enjoyed it very much.

My next foray into Big Lit was Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. This was written in Chile in 1982 and was the author’s first novel. It was heralded as a great work and made Ms Allende famous. It tells of three generations of a family and of Chile’s political revolution.

It has some lovely descriptions and characters, but halfway through, I had to stop reading it. The main character of Esteban Trueba is so hateful that spending hours a day with him (through reading) was depressing me. Just as I avoid such folks in my real life, I needed to distance myself from his greed and bad temper.

So I broke up with Isabel Allende. What next?

I needed a complete change, but it was late at night and my options were limited. Scanning my bookshelves, I found an old, old friend, a 1955 copy of Kenneth Graham’s The Wind In the Willows that had been rescued from the University Park Elementary School library. Hooray!

Elaine Marbach, bless her, always kept these treasures aside for me when they had to go out of circulation. It is a hard cover and has stamps showing that it belonged to the school where I spent 28 years of the happiest years of my life. It even has the original check-out cards, with initials and names of dearly departed colleagues and former fifth graders who are still in my life.

As I began the story of Mole and Ratty’s friendship, the sadness of House of Spirits fell away and I drifted into a happy place.

Reading is powerful magic. Choose it wisely.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Prezzies from Ruthie!

Dear Liza,

I have told you about my old friend Ruth Inman. She is an artist in Illinois and we went to high school together. The art and friendship I re-discovered with her during the Covid lockdown really made my life better.

I have shown you these pieces as I have made them; simple watercolor flowers, silly candy wrapper collages, and layered mixed media pieces. They have all been part of my journey from “I can’t draw” to “Sure, I’ll give that a go!”

Artists’s Bounty!!

And now, Ruthie has sent me another gift! It is a big fat envelope of artsy goodies! There are pure Ruthie artist cards…

Isn’t that pink one amazing?

A delightful postcard of tiny houses…

I could live there!

Some cut outs of cool old photos…

Such characters!

And even a Ruthie Original, this tiny handmade, colorful wallet thingee. Ruthie showed us how to make these last week, and now I am inspired even more!

Of course, I want to use these delightful bits. But I want to use them in a way that does them justice. I will be monkeying around with them for a while, and let you know what comes up.

So I say for the zillionth time, Thanks, Ruthie! Thanks, Art!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Funny Cousins’ Zoom

Dear Liza,

Sometimes it is best to just stop making sense and be silly. On your birthday, we got together on Zoom for our regular art thing, and the cousins came along for the ride!

Jasper, Kestrel, and Auntie Katie joined us for a while, and you were ‘wearing’, via the zoom filter, purple lipstick. This led to Katie getting a lesson in filters, and then it just got silly.

I enjoyed watching it, though I couldn’t keep up!

Happy birthday, Liza! And next year we will celebrate it in the same room!!

Love,
Grandma Judy

Hopeful Collage

Dear Liza,

I have been having so much fun experimenting with mixed media! Putting watercolors, other paints, and collage together to tell about a feeling, or a day, just makes so much sense to me.

This piece is from Easter weekend. When I was out walking, I thought about how all springs are new beginnings. But THIS spring, with vaccines making us safer, we are being released from Covid captivity in addition to our cold winter isolation. This spring feels especially free-ing.

I collected some bits from my collage box, including candy wrappers and the little paper sleeve that was wrapped around my ice cream cone from the new Dairy Hill Creamery, down on Hawthorne.


I knew I wanted the ‘sad’ side on the left and the ‘happy’ side on the right, so I put some watercolors down for a first layer.

To show more clearly what made the sad side so sad, I stenciled and collaged some Covid-looking circles, and even spelled ‘Covid’ out in letters. Moving on from the sad, I laid down an ice cream cone wrapper bridge over a river made from a chocolate-wrapper bit of tinfoil.

I needed a happy side to be bright, so I stenciled a sun in a variety of yellows. The city is cut from an on-sale art paper from Collage art supplies. The bird was on a birthday card. The ‘JOY’ balloons are also from the ice cream wrapper.

To finish it off, I outlined the balloons and letters, and gave some detail to the sun. And to remember that this happened on Easter, I put some pretty eggs by the bridge.

Giving it a critical look, I realize that I made the water under the bridge wrong. But overall, I am pleased with the piece. It captures how I was feeling and incorporates bits of the day. I hope you have fun doing art this week!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Portland Rainbow

Dear Liza,

Your great grandma Billie, my momma, knew so many poems by heart that they would sometimes just jump out of her when she was emotional. The words of the poems expressed how she felt better than her own words.

Rainbow over Ladd’s Addition

This is one I heard very often, a poem William Wordsworth wrote about 150 years ago. It is about rainbows, but it is also about trying to carry the wonder we feel as children into our adulthood. I have chosen it to accompany some lovely rainbow-colored flowers in our neighborhood.


My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;


So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!


The Child is father of the Man;


And I could wish my days to be


Bound each to each by natural piety.

And that is your poetry for the day.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Lefties and Landscapes

Dear Liza,

As I have gotten more into drawing and painting this past year, I have realized that there has been a whole long list in my head of “things I can’t do”. I’ll bet most people have this sort of list, and it makes decisions for them even when they don’t realize it

“I can’t write an essay every single day!” I wailed to myself, thinking about starting this blog in 2017. I have proven myself wrong 943 times so far.

My latest lefty drawing…

“I can’t draw with my left hand,” I have said since…. well, since I could draw at all. Recently, with practice and an adjustment of expectations, I have proven myself wrong again.

And now, I am tackling “I can’t do landscapes.” I am watching YouTube videos, finding the artists who go slowly enough for me, like Alan Owen, a Scotsman who is lovely to listen to. I am staring at landscape photos and watercolors, looking for the magic so I can reproduce it. And I am practicing. A lot.
With very mixed results.

On my own……

In “All That Jazz”, choreographer Joe Gideon tells one of troupe, “I don’t know if I can make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But if you keep trying and don’t give up, I know I can make you a better dancer.”

With Alan Owen’s guidance.

And better is all I’m looking for right now.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Wet, Wet, and More Wet

Dear Liza,

We are having our traditional Early February downpour. Our atmospheric river has cousins drenching California, the southeast, and everyone from Iowa to the East and Virginia to the north. So I thought I’d talk about moss.

Lovely moss carpet in the Japanese Garden

Auntie Katie posted pictures yesterday of her visit to our Japanese Garden here in Portland, saying she remembered walking there as a kid and trying to help me figure out how to grow moss in Salinas. I remember those trips too, wanting to bring that lush green to dry Salinas, and failing miserably.

Fairy wall garden

When you grow up in a desert (and let’s face it, anything south of San Francisco is basically a desert), the sidewalks are always grey, the concrete is always hard, the corners are always sharp. It’s like seeing Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon. There is nothing to erode them.

But in a rain-rich environment, corners get soft and sidewalks get green. Tombstones and birdbath become gardens. Walls become magical.

Mysterious wall art

And if you have the emotional strength to get into real clothes and shoes and go out to see these marvels, your day will be better. I promise.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Finally, A Product

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was busy! I walked down to Auntie Katie’s to deliver some cookies, made art with stencils, and got a bunch of essays edited. It felt good to be accomplishing things.

I also finished a non-dominant (lefty) piece that I started last week. . It was the most difficult so far, and it took days of on and off work. My left hand isn’t very strong and working with it is hard, so I only do about an hour at a time.

I decided to copy my photo of a bridge at Cambridge, England. The reflections and delicate windows are just beautiful.

So lovely!

I knew it was going to be hard, but easy stuff doesn’t make me smarter, and if it was horrible, I could always tear it out of the journal. I started, wiggly lines and all, feeling worse and worse about it as I went on.

Not so much…..

I was so discouraged I put it away. But after a few days I remembered Picasso’s statement that if, at some point, you don’t hate a piece, you will never make anything worthwhile. I decided to give it another chance.

Better!

I got the watercolors out and, still left handed, started adding color. Watercolor always needs layers and layers to look right, so my lazy left got a workout. That took another long afternoon of painting and drying, and painting some more. It was better! I got out the colored pencils to give some stronger edges on the bridge and bricks, and eventually was satisfied. It could stay in the journal, though I think it still needs some shading.

I used to think that if you weren’t “good enough” at art, or music, or whatever, you were ‘wasting your time’. I now know that it isn’t being good at art that is the point, it is simply the doing. What you can learn about yourself as you peer closely at things and try and make sense of them with pencil and paper are all part of understanding who you can be.

It’s a worthwhile project, I promise.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back to the Art Journal

Dear Liza,

Last October, my friend Ruth got me (and a bunch of other friends) started on an art journal. She posted ideas for each day…. draw a ghost, or a tree. It was fun and kept me thinking about new ways to draw familiar images.

Mixed Media Mummy

November brought a different sort of challenge. The ideas weren’t for WHAT to make, but what to make them FROM. Threads, junk mail, bubble wrap, all became part of the repertoire. That was another sort of mental stretch, and was more challenging. I started looking at everything with the thought, “Could I use this?”

Junk Mail portrait

In December, I’m sure there were suggestions, but between bracing for the holiday and being on my own ‘circle’ binge, I didn’t pay any attention. While I like what I made with circles, it is time to come back to the art journal and get out of my own head.

I went in circles for a while….

January is still pretty new, but I like where we are going. So far, the prompts have been concept-based. “Celebrate” and “Sunshine” are what I’ve gotten done, and as you can see, I’m still enjoying circles.

Celebrate!

I happy to have things to pull my brain from its rut.

Sunshine

Love,

Grandma Judy

Seasonal Inspiration

Dear Liza,

Spring…

I started painting this spring. It made sense to paint flowers because are a pleasant, familiar image and, the way I did them, pretty simple. I had not realized that I was painting flowers BECAUSE it was spring. (Yes, sometimes I am a little dense.)

Into summer

This weekend I looked back at my paintings as the seasons shifted. Even when not working from a seasonal prompt, the pictures kept progressing.

Fall, creeping up….


And the latest batch have accidentally proven my point. My spring flowers have given way to frozen landscapes. I have not set out, in most of these pieces, to make a picture of the season. I sit down, look my paints, and pick what appeals to me. I guess my brain is more connected to the wet, dark Oregon winter than I thought. Winter has certainly arrived, and I am feeling it heavily this year.


Maybe today I will try and find spring again, if only in my art, and paint a flower. Or would that would be out of synch, like wearing shorts in the snow?

And becoming Winter.

I am not sure. I have had such fun just painting what comes to mind, I don’t want to irritate the Muse. I’ll see what happens today, I guess.

Love,

Grandma Judy