Art In the Darkness

Dear Liza,

It has been a really difficult week. Heavy smoke from the Oregon fires has kept us inside and is making everyone feel sick. The virus that President Trump ignored is still killing a thousand people a day, and our government seems determined to punish anyone who disagrees with it. It has been very hard to find any happy.

The gloom is almost too much….

Yesterday I wrote a letter to my brother Tim (yes, I type my letters) and illustrated it with forests and smoke. It was a sad picture, but it made me feel better to put something in paper.

I gathered up my watercolors and played with some of the skills Ruth Inman has taught me in our online art group.

First, I taped the paper down, and really soaked it. While it was wet, I gave a wash of bright yellow and orange, making sure it was nice and random.

While the paper was still damp, I used a toilet paper roll to make big circles and a rolled up strip of regular paper to make small ones…. just a few. Then I let everything dry.

This next process takes the longest because you have to let things dry between layers. If you try and paint everything at once, it all runs together. Over the course of the afternoon I put in the petals and centers of the flowers.

When that layer seemed “done”, I let it all dry. Then I got out the Elegant Writer pen Ruth had sent me and put in the details of the flowers. It was fun to see the orange and yellow pop against the black lines.

And I felt better. Something about the bright colors, the creative process and the control of this little piece of paper allowed me to feel joy for the first time in days. I recommend this ‘art therapy’ to anyone feeling sad.

We will get through this and find light in the other side, I know. And art will help.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Helping the City, Helping Ourselves

Dear Liza,

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.

Our group downtown

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.

A whole bunch of people, patiently waiting to help!

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.

Half of our neighborhood’s haul

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.

Lunch!!

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.

A nice thought for the day. And maybe, the year.

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.

And today I got to help.

Love,

Grandma Judy

…And Back Again

Dear Liza,

Once I got to the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, I had intended to head right back home, but my Dad’s voice whispered “Go home a different way, so you see something different.”

Art made with cables and sky

So I continued across the bridge to the Westside. The pedestrian walkway has recently been finished and makes for a very pleasant, if warm, walk between the bridges. There were more adventurers out and about.

Kayakers out and about

I found Poet’s Beach, a side path lined with stones that are carved with poetry written by students, years ago.

Thanks, Phoebe!

It is loud, because it is right under the double decker Marquam Bridge, but worth a read and a visit.

The extremely loud Marquam Bridge

By this time, my feet and my phone batteries were telling me it was time to head home. I decided to cross back over the Hawthorne Bridge. I love the views of bridges from other bridges!

The Marquam, Tilikum, and Ross Island Bridges… from the Hawthorne.

Of course, political statements are everywhere. I liked this re-purposed public service message.

You can see a lot of Portland from bridges, too. Joggers, cyclists, the Burnside Bridge and the Convention Center are all in these shots.

Once I was back on the Eastside, I realized I was hungry, and came upon Asylum, a food Court on the site of Dr. Hawthorne’s Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. This much-respected institution stood from 1862 to 1883. It closed when the good Doctor died and burned to the ground a few years later.

The space has a steampunk cartoony vibe, with trash containers that made me laugh and really tasty food.

I had pot stickers from the Thai place and enjoyed some people and art watching.

The Asylum gates ….

Once I was fed, I still had a mile walk, all uphill, to get home. I paced myself, admiring gardens, appreciating shade, and visiting with nice folks. I had done what I had intended to do, walked a total of 6.2 miles, and it felt good.

By the way, as you can tell, Portland is not “in flames”. We are fine. The protests are being exploited by the President and his allies who want to use Portland as an excuse to use strong arm tactics against his political enemies. He is lying.

Took the words out of my mouth!

Stay alert, stay well, and remember I love you.

Grandma Judy

Alberta in the Autumn Sunshine

Dear Liza,

More businesses are figuring out, after many long months, how to open up and still keep folks safe from the corona virus. And I am glad, because I am starting to run out of things.

A close-up of my latest weirdness…

My new projects take both paint and embroidery floss, since I am painting maps on fabric and then sewing over them.

Last week we walked the mile to Collage in Division Street. It is a small and nicely stocked shop, using very strict hygiene and social distancing rules. I got basic colors of acrylic paint so I can mix whatever I need.

Not even close…

But I also needed thread, and their selection leaned toward the neon. Not what I needed. Well, the good news is, there is another Collage! The only wrinkle is that it is four miles away, too far for a comfortable walk.

Can’t miss it!

So Auntie Bridgett and I got the car out and drove to Alberta, a funky, artsy neighborhood north of us. We found the Collage Annex, with its 95% off sale, and then the shop itself. Auntie Bridgett was in her happy place, visiting all the paints, pens, and markers.

I am more goal oriented, and found my floss quickly. But it was fun wandering around, anyway. We each chose a few things, paid the happy, helpful fellow, and headed down the street. Alberta is always a lively neighborhood, with lots of street art, music, and folks out and about.

Ever a dull wall in Alberta

We drove up Alberta Street, happy to see that so many of the shops and cafes we like are still open. We headed for groceries and then home, so I could start using my new toys!

Now, that’s better!

I don’t know where this painting and sewing thing will lead next. The time I spend sewing (and it is a slow process) lets my mind wander. But I will keep you posted.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Flowers and Balance

Dear Liza,

I think I am like most folks, lately, in that I am living on a seesaw. I alternate between reading every word of the news, needing to understand and make sense of the politics, economics, and natural disasters, and just needing to NOT. To NOT read. To NOT analyze.

Dahlias tall enough to look you right in the eye!

My walks are a good time to NOT. Instead of analyzing, I notice. I photograph. I appreciate. It gives my brain a short focus lens that is very restful.

It is just past sunflower season, as I’ve talked about before. But the dahlias are getting taller than my head.

The nasturtiums are playing nicely with all the other flowers.

And the onions, like me, are dancing beautifully while going to seed.


I know I am a grownup, and I need to Pay Attention to the world. But I can’t let it suck me down. Flowers help put me back in balance.

Love,

Grandma Judy

New Art in the House

Dear Liza,

As I have told you before, I didn’t grow up with a lot of art. It just wasn’t something my parents understood or valued. They had both grown up on farms during the Great Depression, and were more interested in just keeping us all fed and clothed.

But now our house is full of wonderful, bright, original art! Auntie Bridgett being a member at SideStreet Arts helps, of course, because new paintings, prints and ceramics come through every month. But Ruth Inman, my friend from High School, has also been added to our collection.

Don’t worry! She’s hanging it, not smashing it!! Ruth Inman’s alcohol ink sunflower.
A Perfect trouple of Art….

We also just hung up a new Denise Krueger ceramic piece. It is three dimensional, one of her many sea creature-like sculptures that remind me of the tide pools in Monterey Bay. We hung it nice and high, above Sharon Jonquil’s encaustics, so we don’t hit it with a shoulder as we pass.

Look closely… there we are!

Our last new piece is a small acrylic painting Auntie Bridgett made for Grandpa Nelson’s birthday. It shows our lovely Laurelhurst Park with silhouettes of the three of us walking among the trees. It is hanging under Erin Hanson’s study of eucalyptus trees.

I love having art in the house. It gives me new perspective at times when I desperately need it. It shows me beauty and joy when I am burned down to my last neuron. And it reminds me that wonder can come from anyone, at any time.

Love,

Grandma Judy

“Out” For Dinner

Dear Liza,

On Fridays we try and go out for dinner. When we lived in Salinas, we went to Patria, or to the many restaurants in Monterey. Here in Portland, between our bustling neighborhood and easy bus service, we had hundreds of places to choose from.

Dinner out, back in the day (last year!)

Had, I say. In the pandemic, with public transportation feeling like a disease vector on wheels and many places closed up or only doing take-out, our elegant end of the week tradition has been trimmed back.

Auntie Bridgett sketching away…

I like cooking and don’t mind eating my own food, so for me, the “going out for dinner” was mostly about the “out” part. A change of scene, watching folks and chatting with servers, being in the hustle and bustle. Watching Bridgett sketch interesting characters. Watching Grandpa Nelson wave at babies from across the room.


This past Friday, we packed peanuts and half a bottle of wine, bottles of water, and some picnic utensils into a bag and walked down to Sea Sweets, a poke place on Hawthorne. Auntie Bridgett and I got poke bowls, filled with spicy raw salmon, brown rice, seaweed salad, kimchi corn, and pickled ginger. We also got an ice cold ginger beer for Grandpa Nelson, because it was really hot.

Sea Sweets yummy poke bowls

We packed up these delights and continued south to Seawellcrest Park for the “dinner out” part of our evening. We found a socially distanced piece of shade, spread the blanket, and ate up. About thirty feet away, a fellow was exercising. Further off, two young men were playing basketball. And far across the park, happy dogs met and ran and sniffed each other.

Our dinner

It was a warm, pleasant, very un-elegant dinner out, and I enjoyed it very much. As we headed home to watch baseball, I thought about how we create the world by our attitudes.

With the country shut down, in conflict, and worried about our upcoming election, we can still find happiness and peace. And those are valuable resources.

”Table” for three
Bright and breezy decor at the new place…

I hope you are enjoying life to the best of your abilities, being kind to those around you, and staying well.

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

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