Trying Something New with Something Old

Dear Liza,

I always like trying something new.


I have been making Art Journals with Ruth Inman for a while, using cracker boxes and other leftovers for covers. But the other day when I found this really old, falling-apart literature book, I thought …. Why not use ITS cover as a cover?


First, I helped the book finish falling apart, trimming the cover and selected pages with an Exacto knife. I saved the very old 2nd place ribbon I found inside. The handwritten inventory numbers and check-out pocket touched my librarian’s heart, so I made sure they were safe. I found one of my favorite poems, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Rhodora”, among the anthologized works, and saved it, as well as old illustrations.


Lovely, historic insides

I grabbed a yellow printed fabric from my box, thinking the texture looked like old alligator skin. Once I had it glued onto the cover, however, it became clear that I had mis-judged. It was too light. I resisted the urge to tear it off and decided to highlight the texture and darken the effect with some acrylic paint. It was better.

Improving the spine fabric

Sewing the signatures in

I stiffened the spine with some card stock, then laid in the inside fabric. I made four ‘signatures’ (sets of pages) and pierced the spine carefully to sew the signatures in.

A new book from an old book!

Since the book was printed in 1932, I plan to use it as a journal for my research and ponderings on history. I have been researching English and French history, and am now looking into the many places where they intersect. I am also curious about how they interacted with the Holy Roman Empire and, further away, the many dynasties of the Chinese Empire.

This historic, hand-made journal will give me a place, and an inspiration, to collect these thoughts, as well and other brain bits that pop up.

The Inspiration….

“Tell them dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,

Then beauty is its own excuse for being.”

Love,

Grandma Judy

Still Growing, Part 2

Dear Liza,

Last summer, a few months after the Covid shutdown, I started painting with an online group organized by Ruth Inman. It made sense that we should start painting with flowers…. who doesn’t like flowers?

Step by step watercolor Cornflowers

My skills weren’t very good, and I was scared of making mistakes, but being with an old friend put me at ease. The tremor in my hand got in the way a bit, but I’d just power through, realizing that the wiggly lines could be just part of the picture. Flowers don’t have straight lines, anyway.


Wacky candy wrapper collage

As the year passed, Ruth would give us challenges to use different materials, like candy wrappers or other recycled papers. These let me realize that ART didn’t have to mean making a perfect painting every time. The making, the process, was the main thing. If other people liked it when you were done, that was a bonus. But it was not the main goal.

Fun with Acrylics

Realizing that, I got more confident. I also came to understand that different media work in different ways. Watercolors always show through, so planning is crucial. Acrylics are more forgiving and will cover up mistakes. Collage needs a careful hand but is amazingly freeing. And all of these can be used in the same piece, if you like!


This is my new favorite, a remembering of a drive along the Willamette. As I sat on a bench looking at Mt. Hood far away across the river, I planned out how I would construct it. Watercolors for the sky and ground, THEN the distant mountain (out of a bit of Kleenex box), THEN the flowers/ trees in front of it, then the river and dogs. I found the note in the sky folded up in our picnic table, and wanted to include it.

Close up!

I built up from the background to the foreground, and was pleased with how it turned out. The snow on the mountain is a tiny bit of Posca marker.

I’ve learned a lot this year. Mostly, I learned that I am still learning, which is a good thing.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Playing Around

Dear Liza,

With the weather being so nice and sunny, I have not been making art as much as I did when it was cold. My creative juices have been working to decide what to plant in the allotment. I have even re-designed my garden plot. Here is my new idea, with veggies planted in bunches instead of rows.

New plan for the allotment

But this morning, I got inspired. I wanted to make a flower in a different way, without actually painting a flower. I had gotten inspired by watching Ruth Inman make backgrounds using acrylic paints and old credit cards.

First, I cut a stem, a rose, and leaves from heavy paper and glued them down to the page. Once they dried, I dabbed some yellow, white and blue acrylic paint around. I wasn’t too fussy about where the dabs were.

Then I took an old credit card and used it like a palate knife, scraping the paint around a bit. This mixed the blue, yellow and white together to make some interesting new greens.

I liked the way it looked, but it needed more.

As I put more paint down and scraped it around, I began to despair. It got too dark! It lost the definition of the stem and leaves!

But when I hate a picture, I keeping working until I don’t hate it anymore. I got more delicate and laid in a bit of red and pink for the rose, using a small corner cut from the card for better control.

Better….

I was liking it better, but it wasn’t done. I knew it needed more but I had gotten wary. Was I just going to make it worse? I stepped away for a while. We had dinner and worked on the new jigsaw puzzle.

Close up of the chaotic, joyous effect!

I was in pajamas by the time I figured out what was needed. I pulled out the art supplies and worked for about five minutes, laying down a scraped bit of white here and there around the leaves. Now I liked it.

I really enjoy this new way of painting! It is unpredictable and surprises me with colors and textures. One color will cover another, or reveal it, and it makes my eyes sing. I love staring at a picture I painted and seeing things I didn’t expect.

Who knew?

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

Happy New Year!

Dear Liza,

We had a fun, busy New Year’s Eve, just the three of us and Mouse the Cat.

Ruth Inman’s fabulous 2021 calendar!!

Our dinner was take out pizza from Straight from from New York, just a block away on Belmont. It was, as always, delicious, with a nice bottle of local Columbia Crest Red Blend wine. We watched a Jim Gaffigan comedy special and discovered Ari Eldjarn, an Icelandic stand up comedian. Honestly, he is delightful.

But we knew that if we sat on the couch, we would never make it to midnight. So we worked on the newest picture puzzle, a particularly difficult impressionist painting of a rainy, reflective street scene. It has 1,000 pieces! It will take a while.

Auntie Bridgett and I kept up our tradition of making New Year’s Hats from used Christmas wrapping paper. My first idea of a newsboys’ cap totally failed, because, well, paper isn’t fabric. I went for a simpler tam sort of cap, which I was pretty happy with.


We had a FaceTime chat with Auntie Katie and the cousins, who were working on their own puzzle.



Auntie Bridgett made a fabulous wig out of snowman wrapping paper! The framework underneath was thin cardboard stapled together, and the wig had really good movement.

Cutie Pie Auntie Bridgett!

And of course, Mouse had a fun evening. She sat on our laps when we were on the couch, attacked stray bits of wrapping paper and finally just took over the trash bag. She was confused that we stayed up so late!

At midnight we watched the Ball drop in New York City and I stepped out on the rainy balcony to hear all the cheers and fireworks up and down the street. This has been a difficult, disorienting year. 2021 will be better if we let it.

Stay well, take care of each other. Wear a mask.

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Sign of the New Year

Dear Liza,

The big election is (finally) over, and that means 2021 is on the way. We are holding off getting a Christmas tree until the day AFTER Thanksgiving, but we already have one necessity for next year.

This page will be for next November

A New Calendar, from Ruth Inman, my artist friend Illinois. To see her wonderful artwork, you can go to http://www.ruthinmanart.com/.

August….

When I was teaching, how my calendar looked was not important. It could be plain as a mud fence, but it needed giant squares to write down the countless meetings and deadlines, units to be taught and parents to be met with. It wasn’t so much a decoration as external storage for my over-filled brain.

January…..

But now, between being both retired and quarantined, the look of my calendar can set the mood of my day. After Auntie Bridgett’s face, it is usually the first thing I see in the morning, and it’s nice to start off with something pretty.

May….

Ruth’s calendar has twelve beautiful, bright alcohol ink prints. The colors are amazing and the paper they are printed on is heavy enough to frame (once their month has passed, that is). It is nice to know we are starting 2021 on a cheerful, colorful note.

Take care, make art, and be happy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Orange

Dear Liza,

A few weeks ago I painted a bunch of bright orange cards. I have never really cared for orange, but with the skies dark from forest fire smoke, I needed the brightness.

My first ORANGE!

And I liked it! Orange is a bright, cheerful, aggressively happy color. How had I not seen this before?

I discovered my love of orange just in time. Ruth Inman’s friend Jody Tockes ran a class where we used torn paper to make a sunflower. And guess what? More orange!

And this week, Ruth is running an “Art Journal” class, and I got inspired. Of course, the class isn’t until tomorrow, but I felt the need to get an early start.

First layers of crayon and watercolor wash…

As usual in watercolor, I was disappointed by my first layer. It looked pale and boring. But Picasso said that unless you hate a piece somewhere in the middle, you will never make something you love. So I kept at it.

More crayons and watercolor…

I got some purple in and laid in some more layers, and liked how it was looking. I decided it needed some words, so I browsed magazines for whatever seemed appropriate.

And words….

As always with art, I’d do a little, walk away, then come back and see what it needed next. I fiddled a little bit more and was done. But that’s okay! There are lots more pages in the book!

Love,

Grandma Judy