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

Layers and Layers (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

The other day I decided to see just how loosely I could start a picture. The only decision I made was ‘blue’ and ‘circles’.

I swished these down and and left them to dry. An hour later when I came back, they looked pale and flat. I gave them some darker swooshes, and, while they were damp, some splatters of plain water.

Seeing that my scheme was working, I headed to the kitchen and collected my circular implements of art…. a shot glass, a tiny bowl, a bit of Tupperware…. and a tube of chapstick.

Once the paper was completely dry, I started tracing circles in dark blue water color pencil. I wanted to lay down colors in layers, so no black. Yet.

The tracing needs a steady hand, and I did a lot of drawing, stopping, and staring. I wanted it to be interesting but not chaotic, balanced but not symmetrical. I wasn’t trying to make planets, or wheels, or anything, really. Just interesting and pleasing to my eye.

I added a few more circles, the. realized it needed contrast, so some pink and fuchsia came out of the pencil box.

It was going in a good direction. But it was still too pale. Now was the time to get the black out. Auntie Bridgett gave me a size 005 micron pen, and I used it for details.

I think I am almost there…. some more black and maybe some white to pop out a bit, maybe.

I love art! After thirty years of classroom teaching and having to be absolutely sure about everything, it is nice to say “ I don’t know how that’s going to turn out” and be okay with it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Layers and Layers (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

As I typed that title, I thought of how I am dressing nowadays, and making the bed: Layers and layers. We have had very cold nights and may even get snow tomorrow! But that’ s not what I’m writing about today.

Cool diagonal lines at the beach…

I am still learning about how to make pictures look like I want. I will usually start with some idea or shape I am inspired by.

Plus circles!

Or sometimes I just throw down some color or lines, and go from there.

One of last week’s Art Journal challenges was “Circles”, which I love. I took the diagonal lines of the abstract photo from The Coast last week and added pinkish circles. I liked it!

Better…

But when I looked again a few days later, it looked unfinished. It needed contrast. So I filled in the spaces with blue and black, and I like it better now. It might be done. Maybe. Are the planets dark enough, or should they be filled in?

I’ll let you know when I know. More about layers tomorrow!

Love,

Grandma Judy

All Process, Not Much Product… Yet

Dear Liza,

It has been a fun, happy, busy weekend! I made a stencil I really like to use in my Art Journal. So far I haven’t finished with it yet, but it is showing promise.

Fun with stencils

I also started whacking away at the two dozen or so blogs I have written about our wonderful, historic Lone Fir Cemetery. I started simply copying them, then realized that with just a little tweaking, there is a story there about Portland’s history that could be worth telling. I am currently paddling in some very deep water, and enjoying it very much.

Little Ada Smith

There was also a delightful surprise purchase from Jehnee Rains, who runs Suzette, our nearby Creperie. Since she has has greatly reduced business for the ten months of quarantine, she is selling a lot of her catering supplies to raise a bit of cash and simplify her life. Auntie Bridgett saw some ‘bee’ themed bottles she wanted, and I saw cookie cutters, so we threw on clothes some and walked over.

I now have these great beauties to play with, and the cookie dough mixed for delivery to Auntie Katie and the cousins.

Score!

I also found a map of Portland I was sewing on last winter and ran out of inspiration for, which is looking more promising now.

Downtown, the Willamette, and our Sunnyside neighborhood

I feel like I’m gunning my engine at the starting line, and can’t decide which race track to run first. I need to take a breath and focus…. or not. I’m sure it will all work out.

Having fun, thinking stuff!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Insomnia

Dear Liza,

I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.

The kids, circa 2008…..

But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.

We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.

Auntie Bridgett, being a good sport

Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.

And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.

So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.

I wish the same for you.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Long Distance Visits

Dear Liza,

Being so far away from you is hard. So is being just across town from the cousins here, but not being able to have a real visit, to hug or sit in the couch and snuggle.

My cartoon from when we practiced ‘spheres’.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to stay in touch. We have been having ZOOM visits and doing art together, practicing drawing toys and trying to make 3-D objects look right. Cousin Kestrel even joined us for one of these art hang-outs, and it was fun to have you both in one “place”.

From the 2016 calendar

And today, a gift that I look forward to every year has arrived. It is the Shutterfly calendar, featuring YOU.

When you were a tiny baby, your Mama realized that she loved posing you for pictures, that your Daddy was really good at taking them, and that I loved getting them. You even got to like the posing, too! A family tradition was born.

You and your beautiful Mama Olga last year

The oldest ones, when you were tiny baby Liza, have been put high up in the garage for safe keeping, and I can’t get photos from them.

But the last few, from 2016 on, are on my shelf and I can visit with you whenever I want.

That latest Liza

We will get to have a real visit soon, but until then, it is nice to be able to see you!

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

Peter Mayle’s Sunshine

Dear Liza,

Winter cold and wet is an opportunity for art, sewing, and reading. I just finished David McCullough’s giant biography of Harry Truman, and it was enjoyable and informative. It felt good to read about a President who, though very much in over his head, made an honest effort to do the job well.

But with current political drama becoming almost overwhelming, I am happy to say goodbye to Harry’s battles, and move on to something … lighter.

Peter Mayle at his house in Provence

And I’ve chosen a very different path. The late Peter Mayle, who retired from a London advertising firm to live in the south of France, wrote delightful stories about his life and his neighbors. His first collection was “A Year in Provence”, which made him famous and was made into a film. This second volume is “Toujours Provence” and continues his explorations of the quirky characters he meets.

He tells of a fellow in the next village over who is taught toads to sing La Marseilles for the France’s bicentennial. This places the story in 1989, about as topical as his stories get. In another essay, Mayle describes, in wincing detail, the difficulties of a simple plumbing repair to his ancient house in the hills.

The hills of Provence

All of these misadventures happen under the blazing Provençal sunshine. One August, when it was 85 degrees by breakfast and even the wild hogs slept in the shade, Peter tells of driving to Chateau Neuf de Pape for a ‘degustation’, a wine tasting, that included two enormous meals and countless glasses of wine. After a stultifying lunch, he napped under a tree until awoken for an equally paralyzing dinner.

It is pleasant, these damp, chilly days, to mentally wander the hills of the Luberon, just above Marseilles, with an eccentric, literate Brit as a guide. It sends me to sleep with sunshine.

Thank you, Mr. Mayle

Love,

Grandma Judy

After Christmas Quiet

Dear Liza,

Even in lockdown, it felt like a rush before Christmas. Auntie Bridgett worked hard at SideStreet Arts Gallery making sure folks got their art gifts delivered. Last minute shopping, even online, is stressy. I baked for us, and extra for neighbors.

And now that the holiday has passed, it feels quiet. A little sad. A little more lonely than usual. In need of perspective, I went to visit the Dead People at Lone Fir Cemetery.

The place was more crowded than usual. There was a well-attended memorial for people who had been killed by police brutality, saying prayers for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others. There was also a private funeral in a far corner. Needing just my own company, I avoided both.

I saw what seemed like a million squirrels, mostly plump and happy, dashing about. This fluffy friend had found a corn cob and was enjoying herself heartily.

I stopped by the memorial for James Frush, beloved bar tender, who passed away in the 1870s. The story goes that when Mr. Frush died, his friends carried a large urn from his bar downtown, crossed the river on the ferry, and continued up the hill to the cemetery, to drink to his memory. How much truth is in this we may never know, but the current marker is delightful. Even more so at this time of year, as someone has placed festive fir branches and ribbon around it.

I left the cemetery feeling better, as usual, but I still don’t feel at peace. There is so much emotional support we are doing without these days, even in the midst of our own more-comfortable-than-many circumstances. I miss being able to visit and hug family and friends. I miss having options.

I will make some art, have some Christmas cookies, and take a nap. That should do the trick, for sure.

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