Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pictures from a Train Station

We're back from our yearly trip to Washington, D.C., and I have a great deal to share with you!  But not tonight as we are tired and have things to do. 
I will quickly show you three photos I took in the Metro that I really like.  They say, " Draw me, paint me, do something with me!"  There are three pictures that I will use - someday for something - but I will combine them in some way into one piece.

Now you think I have lost my mind.
On that note, good night!

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Noble Philosophy

It's amusing how often one makes plans to accomplish certain things in a given period (like a day), and at the end of the day one has done more than twice as much as planned.  What a day!  The glow of self-righteousness, the feeling of being ahead of the curve is wonderful.
Fruit and Avocados - now how would I paint this?
Today was not like that for me although it wasn't a complete waste of time.  I did get to the bank and the grocery store.  I did get five plants in the garden in record time (who wanted to stay outdoors in that humid heat with those ravenous mosquitoes?).  We did make two more batches of jam, and the laundry was done.  Our neighbor came over for a little chat and planning, and as a result we added a few more fun activities to our calendar.
Actually, now that I look at it, that's not a bad day at all, is it?  Except . . . the one thing I really wanted to do was cut the sashing strips for the bonsai quilt, and I didn't get to it.  The anniversary is now only a little more than three weeks away and at least 7 of those days are spoken for. 
Well, I'm not going to get upset about it.  What gets done will be more than nothing, and since I have all the blocks made I already have more than nothing.  Instead, I'm going to take each day as it comes and be happy that I am here to enjoy it.
That's such a great philosophy I'm going to give myself a bouquet!

Abraham Darby rose with white astilbe in an antique pitcher.
Anyone want to bet on how long it takes before I start fretting again?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June Activities

You know it's June when your calendar groans under the weight of the ink you've added to each day.  I know my calendar does, and I am sure that yours is even louder because I'm sure you have far more to do than I.  But I am sure that you, too, are thinking, "You know it's June."
Since I wrote last, D and I made two batches of strawberry jam with another one batch (at least) scheduled for tomorrow.  That's one way we know it is June - a steamy, fragrant kitchen and jars upon jars sending ruby flashes all over the room every time the sun strikes their glass sides.  You know it's June. 
Saturday was a meeting day for my special friends group and only two  could join me.  Among the others, one had a new baby in an almost-family household that had to been visited and hugged and just plain loved!  Another had a graduation to celebrate, and that's a momentous occasion one doesn't want to miss.  A third had golf and relatives and barbecues and just plain family fun.  You know it's June.
Reunions abound at this time of year, and we had one of those, also.  Saturday while I was bonding with friends, D was playing golf and laughing with high school friends at their 50th reunion.  Today we both went to enjoy a tour of their school which is just recognizable beneath layers of renovations, more chatting with his high school friends (I think 5 - 8 out of a class of 20 made it to some of the activities), and lunch.  You know it's June. 
It's time to dust off suitcases and make some trips avoided during the worst of winter.  It's time to remind you that there may be days that pass without an entry from me because I'm up to my ears in some summertime activity but that I will be back as soon as I can.
The days are long and hot, the garden is leaping, and the birds are singing riotously.  You know it's June!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Shared Passion for Doors

Friends sometimes are even more alike than they think they are.  ME and I have frequently laughed and stared at each other in amazement as we admit to some outrageous similarity.  While thinking about this today after spending some serious time in local quilt shops fondling (and yes, buying) fabrics, I was reminded about sharing a common interest with another friend.
K, as many of you know, is having a glorious time with her new camera.  She should be having fun; she has taken some very fine photographs!  When she first began talking about her new passion in a public forum (her original blog), she talked about finding herself drawn to doors.  That had been and still is one of my favorite subjects, also.

Door and Gate in Charleston, S.C.

It may be trite to say or think that doorways and gateways are incredibly symbolic, but it's worth saying again in case one has forgotten.  Doors represent a way through from where one is to another place; that place could be good or bad.  Or just different. 
I see windows in the same way.  They, too, are portals into or out of a place.  There is a wealth of significance of doors or windows in paintings.  Think of the way Vermeer used windows to allow light in.  Deliberate symbolism?  I don't know if Vermeer left any hints, but it is fun to speculate.

Windows in Charleston

Window with Iron Grillwork in Charleston

A painting hovering in the back of my mind will consist of the combination of two photographs.  One of the pictures is of a doorway.   It will be interesting to learn how others will perceive it.

K, what are your thoughts?  Do you have any new doorways to share with us?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bonsai Quilt

Last week I wrote about a quilt I am making for D for our anniversary in July.  After writing that, I thought that it might sound like a strange gift to give a husband to some people.  Fortunately for me, D has always not only supported what I do but also appreciated what I make.  And this particular quilt focuses on something he enjoys so it makes some sense.
The eleven blocks in the photograph are the 8" squares that will make up the rest of the quilt blocks.   The circles are going to offset the strong vertical/rectangular design in a quilt that is supposed to be about nature which isn't straight and rectangular.   I only need 10 of these, but I made some extras because one never knows what will work the best until its all laid out. 
But the biggest surprise, I hope, for D will be the only 8" blocks I haven't shown you.  Thirteen years ago in a meeting of the bonsai club, we had a class on drawing bonsai.  We used newsprint paper, and ink.  The tools we used with which to create our drawings were skewers, matchbook covers, twigs - in short anything we could find.  We came home with our drawings and while we didn't really want to throw them away, we didn't know what to do with them.  One of us suggested putting them up in the garage, and that's where they've been ever since.
Our construction this summer will call for removing the garage roof, and we both lamented the loss of those drawings even though they had become quite dusty and rather the worse for wear.  I told D I would dust them off if  he would take them down for me, and I'd come up with a way to save them.  You know what I'm going to tell you, don't you?  I had them copied and re-sized to less than 8" at their biggest point, and Monday I printed them on fabric. 
I can hardly wait until D sees them in the quilt and recognizes what they are.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Watercolor: Bluebirds 3 Finale

"Wait," you are saying.  "Didn't she say yesterday that the Bluebirds were done?"
Well, they were, or at least they were as far as I was concerned.  However, I took the two paintings in to the studio today for the weekly showing of the work we had done since the last class and for the evaluation of that work.  That was my first mistake.  I shouldn't have taken them in.  I should have pretended I hadn't worked on any painting this past week. 
But because I did take those paintings in, we gathered around and discussed them.  Then at the end, Sharon said, "What's next?"
"Well," I responded, "I think I'll work on another version of the Chinese Street Scene."
"No, I mean, what's next with the bluebirds?"
"I'm not getting anywhere with them, and I'm rather tired of them so. . ."  No answer.  Sharon just looked at me.  "They're not really worth finishing," I ended lamely.
"You should finish the painting."  Silence.  Raised eyebrows.
"Okay," I mumbled. 
Then we had a discussion about why I didn't feel it was worth finishing and what she thought I should do and what I thought I should do (yes, I actually seriously participated in the discussion). 

You may notice that I signed my name in the lower right hand corner.  You know what that means, right?

It's finished.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Watercolors: Bluebirds 2

Bluebirds 1
Bluebirds 1 w/ Lightened Background
Well, after last week, you can’t say I’ve never shown you any of my work that is truly bad, can you.  I look at the first blue bird painting and shudder.  Any way, it was worth writing about because it made me identify some of my mistakes and think about how I could change what I had done in a new painting.  Unfortunately, change doesn’t always mean “change for the better”.   

So, let me look at last week’s birds again.  Since then I “lifted” some of the background which made it a bit less intrusive than before, but it’s still too busy and the colors are too bold.  Baby bird doesn’t seem to be wobbly; I think he looks stuffed.  You know what it feels like when you pick up a Stieff teddy bear?  There’s no soft cuddly feeling; they feel rigid.  That’s the way I think baby bird would be – only he doesn’t even look soft as the Stieff bears definitely do.  Mama bird isn’t too bad (D likes her legs - !).  But what really rocks me back in my chair are those eyes!  They’re Googly eyes that should be in a cartoon, don’t you think?  Talk about a horror show!  Oh well . . . .

Bluebirds 2

Now let me look at this week’s painting which is on a smaller piece of paper.    First, the background recedes appropriately, but it doesn’t add anything to the painting.  It’s just there.  Second, the eyes are much better.  I no longer think a child would run screaming from this painting.  Baby bird looks soft though a bit too light and maybe a bit more wobbly?  The wings are closer to looking as though they are fluttering like mad in an attempt to keep him upright.   And Mama?  She’s okay but her legs aren’t as carefully drawn this week.  The branch on which they are perched is crude – a slapdash afterthought.

Basically, although some things improved, I think I got bored three-quarters of the way through.  My feeling is, “Well, I never have to do that again!” 

That tells me that this is not a painting.  It’s merely an exercise from which I have learned some things that I hope I can remember to keep in mind with my next subject – whatever that might be.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day and Currier and Ives

Here's to all the fathers out there!  I hope you all had a great day and were fussed over and made to feel as special as you are. 
D really liked the shirt I made him and wore it all day.  I think the sleeves were a half inch to inch too long, but he doesn't want me to shorten them at all.  Indeed, the fact that this shirt had long sleeves is a big reason he liked it so much. 
We also went down to Albany to the Museum of History and Art to see the Currier and Ives exhibit that ends today.  We both enjoyed it more than we thought we would.  The exhibit, while not large, had works representative of the entire period the business was active.  Some of the lithographs were familiar to us, but a surprising number were not.  I think that's because a few are very popular and we may have unconsciously thought that's all the firm printed or the only style or subject matter they printed. 
For the first time I was able to see a "chromolithograph" side by side with a regular lithograph.  The color intensity in the former is much greater than in the latter and I had thought it must have been far more costly to color and then print  (lithographs were hand-painted by workers who generally painted only one color on an etching and then handed it on the next person who painted another color), but I was wrong*.
Another reason for the success of the show for us was the information given about each print.  Much of that had to do with the original artist of the piece.  One of the most successful artists working for Currier and Ives was a woman, and I really liked her work.  Neither of us had ever read anything about the artists before so this was a change.  Before today I think the subject matter was what we knew more about than anything else.
Two of the prints, "Before the Marriage" and "After the Marriage", gave me a smile.  In the first, the young lady is looking doubtfully at a string of pearls that she might wear on her wedding day.  Nothing too remarkable about that.  In the second, it's a year later.  In this one the same young woman is seated by a sleeping baby in a cradle.  She is doing some needlework as she keeps watch over the child - very appropriately showing how she has changed.  She no longer worries about jewels like pearls; now her jewel is in the cradle.  At first I thought she was stitching some baby clothes that would emphasize that point, but much to my delight when looking closer at the print, I saw she was holding a shuttle.  The lady was tatting a lace edging!   Of course, it might have been lace for a baby's cap, but it still seemed a bit frivolous and charming.  And it also showed her position in society; she didn't need to mend baby clothing.
I know it's too late for you to go see the exhibit, but you might want to keep an eye on what's showing at the museum.  They do have interesting exhibits, and it's a great way to spend a rainy couple of hours.
* for a good explanation of chromolithography see the following very helpful blog (complete with examples):

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Watercolor: Experiments in Learning

First, as you can see, I am experimenting with the appearance of this blog again in the hope that eventually, I'll find the perfect combination.  Possibly this one appeals to me because of our current weather.  If that's so, you may see another version when the weather changes. 
Today I spent most of my time playing with paints.  First, I played with colors because watercolor paints are not the same as oils even when they have the same name as the oil paints.  For example, Terre Verte is a wonderful earthy green as its name implies.  It is the same color and the same slightly gritty consistency (as though some dirt had been added) as the oil paint of that name.  However, the watercolor paint is not the same when it's reacting to water as its fluid addition as opposed to oil.  It doesn't seem to cover as well, the pigment doesn't stay with the water.  I still haven't quite figured out if the watercolor version is less mixable or if I simply am not adding enough pigment. 
Then there are paints that go by different names.  Here's an example - Diopside Genuine.  Well, I'm very glad it's genuine, but that still wouldn't tell me what color it is if I didn't look at the color band on the tube of paint.  It might help if I had taken chemistry (and retained any of it if I had), but I didn't.  Anyway, after playing with it a bit, I think it may be rather like the oil paint called Permanent Green.

Here's how I played with my greens.

I made a color chart to see how these paints look when added to other colors.   Across the top are the names of the greens, and down the left side are the names of the added colors.  Each green is shown as almost dry pigment (very little water used) and then as a "wash" (more water used).  I did the same thing when I added the colors so each box under a particular green shows how it would look almost dry and also as a wash. 
My teacher would call this avoiding the painting. She's right in one way, of course, but while I made that chart, I did learn about the consistency of the paints and their colors.  Not a bad thing to know if I'm going to use these paints.  And, I did go on to use some of those mixtures of these greens in a painting. 

Okay, you can see the greens behind the bluebirds.  Indeed, how could you not see them?  The background is dreadful; it's just too bold and distracting.  I was warned to leave the background very subtle, but after seeing what happened when I used carbon paper to transfer my drawing, I knew this would not be a keeper and decided to experiment with the color and background.  If you look carefully, you can see the lines of my drawing.  Lesson learned, apply very little pressure when using carbon paper to transfer a drawing.

Here you can see the mother bluebird feeding her teetering baby without the garish background.  Of course, you can also see those lines more clearly, too!
I haven't nailed the fluttering going on with the baby bird, either.  Wings and tail going like mad while mama is absolutely still.  
Well, we'll see what happens with the next attempt!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Good News

Dragonfly basking the sun (proving that the sun did shine at one point recently!)
Hooray!  Today we finally signed with a contractor for the addition of a room that will serve as my both my painting and quilting studio.  It has taken quite a long time as we have had great deal of help from a neighbor who is in the business.  That help included making sure that the architectural plans were accurately reflecting what we wanted and everything (and I do mean everything) we were going to have done was specified in writing.  We have a four page document that covers more minutiae than I thought possible.
I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am for that help.  The last time we had an addition (our family room) we didn't have such a document, and the cost kept rising every time we turned around.  Now everything is spelled out so we feel a bit more confident.
The delay in having all the papers signed means that construction can't start as soon as we hoped.  Not that I'm sorry about that - it gives me more time to get things packed and out of the way.  D's new shed is already taking some of the boxes from the basement, local charities are reaping some benefits, and the garbage men are hauling away still other stuff.  The guest room will become a holding area for things that can't be put elsewhere, and we will rent storage for the short term for any overflow.
Scary but exciting times!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Watercolors: Chinese Street Scene

This is the photograph I mentioned as being ideal for watercolor paints - only partially because it was taken on a rainy day from inside a car.  We were in Changchun, an industrial city in Manchuria, China.  Though you wouldn't know it from this photo it had snowed earlier that morning and then the weather turned to cold rain.  None of us were expecting such cold weather in April! 

Here is my preliminary sketch (it's hard to see, I know, but I thought you might like to know that sometimes I do sketch before painting).  It was tricky to do as I'm sure you can gather from the photograph.  The person on the cycle in the lower right is barely visible, so I made that part up.  In China, bicycles are a common means of transportation, but as we were in an industrial city known for its automobile factories, I thought it might be possible for a person to have a motorcycle.  Clearly I will have to do some research as to what motorcycles really look like before making another attempt at this scene. 
Chinese Street Scene
Well, while this is obviously different from the photograph, I like this painting, and it deserves another try.  I played with dimensions as I love the buildings, but my colors are too bright for such a rainy day.  And that's the big problem.  Although the street shows reflections and looks a bit wet, the rest of the painting doesn't.  I tried using a spray bottle, but that didn't work.

Tomorrow during class, I'll ask for some help with my issues.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shirt Completely Finished

After feeling so proud that I had made D's Father's Day gift early, I didn't get around to completing the finishing touches until this week.  Now all the buttonholes are done, buttons sewn on, and hem completed.  Originally I wasn't going to finish off the hem, but then I realized that this shirt has vents on either side and is designed to be worn out, not tucked in.  I'm actually more concerned about the length of the sleeves than the length of the body so the hem is a minor detail.

And here it is all ready for D to wear.  I'm hoping he will want to take it to D.C. where we plan to take in a Nationals baseball game.  Yes, I know it has long sleeves and may seem an odd choice for summer wear.  Like many of us, D has to be careful not to get too much sun and wears long sleeves year round.
How many of you recognize the fabric?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bonsai Quilt

Somehow I convinced myself that I would be able to run some errands, work on a just-started-quilt, and have time to paint a scene that has been sitting in the back of my mind telling me that it's perfect for watercolors.  Well, I did run errands (exciting ones like buying a new bathmat) and that took about three hours because I had to dawdle and look at books and magazines (but didn't buy any). 
After lunch I began to work on the quilt.  I just stopped.  Hmm.  No painting tonight.  I'd no sooner get everything out and prepared then I would realize that I'm too tired to make painting a worthwhile or even wise activity.
Oh well, I am pleased with the quilt.  It's a design-as-I-go type of thing, and today I finally got things figured out.  Naturally it includes some math, and you know how much I love that!  But it's actually easy math, and the only hard part was deciding how big I wanted the largest blocks to be.  Originally I had it all planned for a 22" block (these are all finished sizes)with companion 11" blocks.  Then I thought that I'd rather make them smaller as I felt 22" x 22" was simply too big and wouldn't give me a chance to do anything interesting in the 11" blocks either since I thought that's still rather large.  So I changed the size to 16" x 16" and 8"x 8" yesterday and cut things out.
Of course, today I realized that one of the materials with which I am working really has to have a longer block.  Now I have the largest blocks at 24" x 16" and the rest stay put at 16" x 16" and 8"x 8".  You'll understand when I finally get to showing you the photos.
This quilt is an anniversary gift for D and the focal fabrics are Japanese woodcuts and an home decorator fabric we found that has bonsai tree designs.  The first one is the woodcut fabric (24" x 16" blocks) and I've managed to fussy cut it so I have different combinations of the figures shown below. 

The next fabric is the home decorator fabric that has four different bonsai trees that I can actually fussy cut (there are more, but sadly, they are either incomplete or can't be cut to any advantage).  This is one of the five blocks (16" x 16") that features the bonsai trees, and these blocks will be the ones with the greatest use of vibrant color.  The ginkgo leaf fabric (found in my stash!!!) will also serve as the border for the quilt.

And lastly are two examples of the blocks that started the whole thing.  These two are from a circles class that ME and I took from Marlous at JQ, and I am going to put them even though they are larger than the 8" x 8" blocks I want to have in the filler spots in this quilt.  Ah well, the fillers above or below these blocks will be whatever size they need to be in order for the four blocks to measure 16" x 16".

The great thing about being the designer is I get to make the math work whatever way I want it to.  If I want oddball sized blocks, I can make them.  Well, I do anyway no matter what quilt pattern I'm using, but this time I won't feel as though I'm taking liberties with someone else's vision.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Emily Dickinson Garden

I finished planting the annuals in the back garden and then went out front to do a bit of weeding in the Emily Dickinson* garden.  Today's entry will be a record of some of the June flowers in this garden (in May you saw white bleeding heart).

This year the Peruvian daffodils are more yellow - chartreuse than I remember from previous years.  These are bulbs I have been able to find only in grocery stores and I travel from one to another to gather enough boxes of bulbs.  They are fragrant and very showy as you can see.

This is only the second year for my white clematis (I can't remember the variety and am sure I have the information somewhere but can't remember that either!) so I was quite surprised to see many buds.  The flowers are fully as large as I would expect on a more mature plant, but the plant itself is clearly a youngster.  I hope it will survive another winter (the weather being so unpredictable these last few years, I never know what will survive from one year to another).

This iris is called "Anniversary" and was given to us by sister-in-law Ann who also loved gardening and was especially fond of irises as we are, too.  Here, even with a spent bloom in evidence you can see how stunning a white flower is when the light is just right!

And this, if I remember correctly is Dictamnus, or gas plant.  It has several other names, too, of course as most plant do.  The stalks are shorter than they will be a bit later on, but it still makes a nice showing. 

And finally, a low growing shrub, Deutzia "Nikko", which is a joy at this time of year.  It has spread nicely so it's showy at this time of year.  For the rest of the summer, it holds its small green leave compactly and makes a nice background for later blooms.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the June blooms in our white flower garden!
*Emily Dickinson did not dress solely in white despite the fanciful story.  It would have been incredibly impractical in that time period (probably in any time period), but it is a charming conceit that I have adopted for the purpose of naming this garden.  However, she is my favorite American poet, and I believe is one of our greatest poets no matter what she wore!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Watercolors: Cliff Face Studies

It was a good day at the painting studio, but then, when isn't it a good day there?  Sharon was as always most kind and enthusiastic about my first five attempts at the lake scene in watercolors.  She did agree that my last two were the best and even claimed she could see progress from the first to the last!
Then, as the excellent teacher she is, she asked me if there was anything in particular I would like help with, any part of the paintings that I felt gave me the most trouble.  Of course, I said the cliff face.  So she told me to take out a large sheet of watercolor paper, divide it into sections, and work on just that section of the painting.
At the end of class, this is what I had:

These look quite odd seen in isolation.  I guess you'd have to look back at yesterday's entry and see where this chunk of cliff should fit in the painting.  It's difficult to get a sense of what I did so I'll just say that I view these four studies as a big step forward.  Nothing about any of the four is perfect, but they're all better than what I had (including some blank spaces in the first few paintings that you did not see).  In each one, I tried something different including using colors, shapes, and then masking fluid for the first time.  That's rather like rubber cement that you paint on, let dry, and then paint around or over it.  When your paint is dry, you can rub off the masking fluid and find mostly clean paper.  I used it in the bottom two studies.
So that was it for today.  Tomorrow I'll try to find the time to do another quick painting using what I learned today. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Watercolors 4 and 5

A beautiful day, some gardening, some errand-running, a new pair of earrings (thanks to ME!), a bit of painting, and twitchiness is gone.  But now I am faced with the problem of gathering my courage as I promised earlier.
Today I have to show you what I have done with water colors.  Knowing it wasn't going to be easy and having gone through a long period of adjusting to oils, I was prepared for this new venture to take a while.  Make that two whiles.  I started with fooling around with the brushes (sable is very different from bristle), the paper instead of canvas, and the method.  Then I tried getting used to the paint and how it is used.  Trust me, it will take as long as finding my style in oils did.
That being said, I decided last week to start trying to paint something rather than just make random marks on paper.  Naturally I began with a subject I know well so I could eliminate some sources of anxiety.  Here are paintings No.s 4 and 5 of the lake on a stormy day. 

No. 4 on the left and No. 5 on the right
They aren't horrid, but they aren't good either.  Number 4 on the left isn't even finished.  Number 5 - well, I lost my light spaces.  Leaving unpainted paper to provide the white will take quite a bit of getting used to.  And that's just a part of it.
D says he'd like to take parts of each painting and put them together to make one.  He's right, but even then I don't think there would be enough to make one decent painting.  He, like me, is curious to hear what Sharon has to say tomorrow: what is good and how to make it better next time.  I think she'll be hard pressed to cut through the downright awful to the merely tolerable!
However, even though I know that the learning curve may be steep and that this may not turn out to be something I do well, I also know that this is just the beginning and that anything worth doing will take time and effort on my part.
Lots of effort!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First Sunday in June

We had company again this weekend and had a wonderful time.  But as a result, I found myself today both tired and twitchy - not a good combination. 
Nothing of moment was accomplished.
Nothing not of moment was accomplished.  Except an interesting double negative. 
So I will leave you with photos of three of six National Grid trucks that came to help out on our street (we had been without power for about 20 hours but it was back on when they arrived). 

They were busy.  ? 

I know they were there in force for a reason.  Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out what the reason was.  It may have been tornado related, who knows?  They were doing their job, and I'm glad it's not mine to do.

Aren't you glad none of us live in Tornado Alley?