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

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

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

…And While We’re on the Subject…

Dear Liza,

So, the other day I was remembering how my Momma encouraged us to deal with sad times by finding things to be grateful for. And then yesterday, coming back from running errands, I found the Gratitude Tree.

This is a tree planted in the parkway at SE 36th and Main Street. I don’t know how long it has been there, and don’t know how I have missed it until now. Indeed, I may have seen it, but since I didn’t NEED it, it didn’t register. Brains are like that.

Anyway, I stopped and had a good visit with the Gratitude Tree. It carries the website http://www.gratitudedojo.com and is covered with Manila tags, which are attached to a rope by thin wire. Hundreds of people have written what they are grateful for and attached their thanks.

These acknowledgements of gifts great and small made me smile. And, like the Grinch, my heart grew a few sizes. Even in the midst of racial upheavals and violence, an international pandemic and incompetent leadership, there is a lot to be grateful for.

I don’t know who has provided our neighborhood with this wonderful way to put our joy and appreciation on display. I wish I did. I would make them a batch of cookies and write them a limerick.

Cookies don’t travel well online, but here is the limerick.

Down in Sunnyside there is a tree,

That became a ray of sunshine for me.

Instead of berating,

This tree’s celebrating!

And the love’s out there for all to see.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Gratitude

Dear Liza,

It seems there is a pendulum in my emotions that swings back and forth. Most days it is somewhere in the middle, and I go through the days happily reading, painting, and cooking.

But every few weeks or so, the pendulum swings all the way to total energized happiness, and I walk for miles and make cookies. A few weeks later, it swings back, and it is a struggle to get out of bed and make conversation.

My people

I know we are all going through this together, but we are doing it mostly alone. And it’s hard, sometimes. My Momma was a big fan of gratitude in times like these. She grew up in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and didn’t have much in terms of clothes or toys. But she loved her tiny flower garden and her dog.
So now it’s my turn.

Near family

I am grateful for:

My family, near and far. The near ones hold me together with love, patience and silliness, and the far ones remind me that we will all be together again someday.

Far family

Old friends. Some I know from kindergarten, high school, or just last year. But the network is there and lets me remember my connected-ness.

My health. This is a gift that I try not to abuse or take for granted.

Wind and clouds

Flowers, plants, wind, and clouds. Yesterday evening, watching the wind make the trees dance in the sunset was the highlight of my day.

Crossword puzzles, baking, and art. These small challenges keep my brain active and make me laugh. Also, cookies!

Well, I feel better. I hope you find a lot to be grateful for and that it brings you joy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

French at Home

Dear Liza,

For most of my life, cities like Paris, Nantes, and Bordeaux were unimaginably far away. Not just in miles, but in culture, language, and history. The family I grew up in liked to travel, but didn’t care much for languages that weren’t English or countries that weren’t the good old U. S of A.

My folks, on top of the world

I studied Spanish as part of preparing to teach in California, which made sense to them. But when I started studying French to enjoy our trips to Europe more, their eyes sort of glazed over, as though I were learning how to chat with bumblebees. “They’ll speak English if you just go to the right places,” they said, with a knowing nod, as if other countries were just being stubborn.

Us, on top of the Arc de Triumph

When I first met Auntie Bridgett, one of the things we had in common was that we both wanted to learn to speak French. My school district offered discounts on Rosetta Stone, a wonderful online language learning app, and I used it for a year. Then we took a class at Hartnell College, and Shawn Quione made the lessons fun and interactive. We also met our friend Donald, whom we still hold dear.



The semesters ended, classes got canceled, but our French was improving. When we traveled to France, we could order lunch (granted, there were a few misfires) and read the memorial plaques and museum signs.

It’s nice to understand!

When we moved to Portland, we thought about attending a French class at Portland Community College, but we kept putting it off. And now we are in shut down.

Enter Duolingo! This free online app has been allowing me to keep learning and practicing French even when there is no way to take a class. It is easy, encouraging, and just repetitive enough to drill things like indirect object pronouns into my thick head. There is a silent mode, so I can practice and not bother anyone, and also a mode to listen to the spoken French.

I have now been practicing for a half hour every day for 155 straight days, and am working my way through the French translation of “Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu”.

My latest challenge

I love being able to keep learning. It is good for my mental and emotional health to struggle a little, as well as plan for a time when we can get on planes and travel again. And maybe the next time I travel to Paris, I can take you with me!

Love,

Grandma Judy